There are hot tickets, there are Donmar productions and then there is David Tennant in Hamlet. Due to some very prompt action by Val back in the middle of 2007 (and, erm, a little bit of excitement in July 2008) I had procured not only tickets to Love Labour's Lost but also, erm, three tickets for Hamlet. Ticket One was the second preview of Hamlet, back in July. That particular evening resulted in some fairly diverse reactions from our (very large) group. Some of the group utterly loved it. Director Boy (in combination with a very ill-judged RSC performance at Latitude) thought it part of the reason why the RSC should have their subsidy removed. I was probably closer to Val's assertion that "there is nothing to offend (well maybe the cuts), but there isn't as yet anything which makes you hold your breath".
It had always been the intention to see the show early and then go back once it had settled into rep. Even given this, however, it was with a mixture of interest, excitement and slight foreboding that I approached the evening. LLL's had been infinitely more satisfying than the first viewing of Hamlet had been (if I lay to one side, albeit temporarily, the fact that it was quite satisfying in relation to seeing DT's feet). Added to this my own recent forays into the ninety minute Hamlet - complete with reading the flippin' First Quarto - had intensified my belief that the cutting of the production had been somewhat shoddy.
What I hadn't banked on, however, was DT, so to speak, being on one. There have been two performers in my (adult) theatre-going life who have compelled me to such an extent that I've thought there's been a touch of the superhuman about them - Judi Dench singing (of all things) in the very charming but not quite earth shattering Merry Wives of Windsor - The Musical and John Kani just being John Kani in the interesting but slightly uneven Nothing But The Truth. That I've witnessed so few of these moments points to both how rare (and special) they are. I count myself incredibly lucky to have experienced even those two, they remain part of the tapestry of theatrical magic which keeps me returning. Halfway through Hamlet I realised that DT was going to make this duo a trio.
It was a performance which screamed confidence. The RP accent had been taken up a notch, the pauses held a fraction longer, the words tripping out like - I came to believe - they were being said for the first time. Tennant's Hamlet is a boy, ravaged with grief, desperate for the parental protection which never comes, trapped in a situation which is in no way of his making. Clinging, utterly broken, to Gertrude he actually broke my heart a little. And because Tennant had hit the rhythm the play opened out, his ripples spread across, touching that within the best of Shakespeare which cannot quite be articulated. Yes, I felt Tennant's Hamlet was less funny than it had been in the previews, but, more importantly, I felt that in return for this loss he'd reached the emotional unknown. Life, death, mortality - it hung in the air, clogged my throat, made my eyes blink. Through Tennant's eyes Elsinore became a place of utter waste, of lost youth, dying soldiers and no certain afterlife.
My reservations about the production largely remain - better not get me started on the butchering of the fourth act and the fact that it robs us of the knowledge that Hamlet is quite ok with sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths - but they have been consumed by the feeling somewhere I can't place that I witnessed something on Saturday night that I will forever recall at the mention of Hamlet.
As DT bounded back on the stage for the curtain call, and I tried to wipe back the tears which were staining my face, it was obvious he knew what had happened on the stage.
"They better not let him drive himself home after that!"
We - this audience, this performer - had been in this together. Tennant held his arms wide. And there was really no question to be asked.