Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hamlet The Third: The Readiness is All

Hamlet The Third: The Readiness is All

There had been a point, just after I saw David Tennant's Hamlet for the second time last November, when I computed that the London transfer of the run would mean that DT and I would be working merely one street away from each other for an entire month. An entire month!

Then, of course, DT ended up with a prolapsed disc in his back (crikey, at this rate I'll be getting a complex that there's an extreme form of avoidance going on here) and it wasn't so much a case of us bumping into each other whilst trying to avoid the London Lite Girl on the corner as my hoping that I'd get to sit in the upper circle at the Novello and squint at his feet rather than at Edward Bennett's.

Though - for reasons that I'm not exactly sure of - I was strangely calm about the whole thing. And remember - I have experience in this area, what with the non- non-stalking of Fox in Liverpool just before I started this blog and then the even more comic/ traumatic non-non-stalking of John Barrowman in flippin' Cardiff two years ago. But DT would be back. I knew it.

And he was.

I felt a momentary pang of guilt sitting in my seat that this was to be the fourth time I've seen DT on stage in the last six months what with all those people who either couldn't get tickets or (worse still) got them and didn't get so much as a whiff of Mr Tennant. Not guilty enough to do something stupid like give my ticket away or anything, or for the pang to last more than a few seconds let it be noted. I'm not that nice a person.

But - to Hamlet. Val and I had agreed it was unlikely that the performance would top that which we saw in November (I don't think there is anyone I have come into contact with since who hasn't been forced to roll their eyes as I descended into superlatives about it) but we had equally agreed that seeing it in a traditional pros-arch stage was something we were looking forward to. And bits of it worked brilliantly in this setting - I got to (finally) see the reflections in the mirrors at the back of the stage (who knew that there were waves on them when Hamlet talks with Old Hamlet? Certainly not me!), there was a real majesty to the players scene and the fireworks - well, the beautiful Novello was meant for such lighting brilliance. What the production lost was the intimacy of the Courtyard thrust stage, where the torches were in your eyes, the smoke got in your throat and the actors came at you from every direction. There also was in one quarter - not mentioning any names, aherm, Mr Patrick Stewart - a marked problem in audibility for the first act. Which, really, is inexcusable.

If November's performance was all about the future Mr DA then January's was all about the ensemble. Oliver Ford Davies's Polonius was at his most joyously funny, Penny Downie (last seen when we sang 'Happy Birthday' to her with one of the bar staff in a pub in Stratford) gave something of a masterclass in how to act when so much of her role remains unsaid and Rosencrantz and Guildernstern imbued their parts which such bumbling pathos that they broke my heart a little. And made us complain even more bitterly than usual about the terrible cutting which leaves them dead without any kind of reasoning as to how they might have ended up that way. Bring back the flippin' Pirates is all I can say. I hope Mr Doran takes notice.

If I'd thought that DT might have withheld something - y'know what with just having had an operation and whatnot - I was to be very much mistaken. He rocked (literal rather than metaphorical rocking I'm talking about there, but, of course, I thought he rocked metaphorically too), jumped and ran. And more than the intense physicality of the part - not exactly an actor who likes to stand still here - he pierced Hamlet's words with such intensity that he made me hold my breath waiting for Hamlet's mind to unfurl. There is a real sense with DT's boy-man Hamlet that he is bound only by the leaps of his mind rather than the text of the play he is in. He could, you feel, go anywhere. And, for a play which I have read, seen, studied, re-read, re-seen, studied some more and then seen three times in the last six months that is possibly the greatest compliment I could give any actor. To be surprised at how a line is delivered, or to have a new meaning or interpretation given to you as DT did again and again that Wednesday night - that is something truly special. And I really believe that I will never again be able to read or hear "the readiness is all" without hearing DT's delivery.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the slight DT foot fetish persists (even from the Upper Circle, though I clearly should have shown some forethought and taken opera glasses). And on an equally intellectual note - there was a moment when I got thoroughly distracted by his visible tummy.

As a general observation I do think in critical terms that too much praise seems to have been lauded on this actual production, which is not exactly original and a little bit uneven (I still have largely the same reservations I had back in July). What it does deserve praising for is for the acting within it - the resurgence of the RSC notion of ensemble was emphatically visible on Wednesday night. And when it turned out that not only had we been in, but the Press had been in to review DT too, well, I couldn't have been happier that the performance which I have seen grow so much, to become a Hamlet that deserves to go down in the lines of posterity, could, finally, be recognised.

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