"The play's the thing…" – Hamlet, 15th August 2008
On the morning of Friday 15th August, at 7.30 a.m. I dropped my brother off at the RSC Box Office to queue for returns to see the current production of Hamlet. As I’m sure most of you know, it stars David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, meaning that tickets sold out months ago – well before we decided we wanted to go.
At around 9.30 a.m. I received a phonecall to say that our efforts hadn’t been in vain and that two tickets for that evening had been paid for. I jumped in the air with excitement – I think I genuinely had trouble breathing! But that was nothing compared to the call about half an hour later, where Himesh told me he had just bumped into David Tennant as he walked down the street. Mr. Tennant looked like he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, but was still very polite when Himesh stopped him to say hello. I think it took the rest of the day to calm my heartbeat back down to a normal rate…but I just about managed it in time for the evening trip to see what is considered Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.
Arriving at The Courtyard Theatre, we could feel the excitement in the air. Anytime you attend a play there’s normally a feeling of anticipation, but this was something different. There has been so much hype around this production that emotions were obviously a little heightened – and Himesh and I were no different in our feelings!
Getting to our seats, we could barely believe our luck: we had only tried for tickets on the off-chance and there we were on the front row of the gallery having paid £5 each thanks to the RSC’s 16-25 ticket policy.
I shan’t mince my words: the play was phenomenal.
The tone that the director took made it very accessible to people like me who aren’t overly familiar with the play, but didn’t patronise those who are, like my brother. The use of a modern setting echoed of Baz Luhrmann’s film of Romeo and Juliet, but obviously more intimate because of the small theare setting. And this modern environment gave the opportunity for some very clever direction, and very interesting delivery dialogue, particularly to inject humour.
That brings me on to the performances. I really enjoyed the whole cast, but highlights were Oliver Ford Davies’ Polonius and of course the two headline castings of Patrick Stewart and David Tennant. There’s always a worry that when something has created such a stir, it’s been overrated, but I’m so very pleased to say that this wasn’t the case here. Stewart played Claudius as charmingly dark – sometimes you just forgot that he has murdered his own brother, until he switched to show the true nature of the character, and his performance as the Ghost was eerie and powerful. As for Mr. David Tennant, what can I say?
I suffer much mocking from friends for my unfaltering love of the man, and perhaps my review of his performance can’t be entirely trusted even if I try to be objective…but he played the title role so engagingly I can still see certain scenes in my mind. Hamlet goes through so many faces and emotions, requiring a diversity that I think Tennant displayed almost effortlessly. The infamous “To be or not to be…” has been controversially moved in this play – I’m not enough of a Shakespeare expert to comment on that – but there was no movement in the whole theatre as the lines were spoken. David’s calm manner in that scene was contrasted by his energetic leaping as he feigned Hamlet’s madness, and both were contrasted again by the various scenes of Hamlet’s despair, for his father and for Ophelia. Those of us who are Doctor Who fans will have noticed glimpses of the Time Lord in the wonderful moments of humour. One of my favourites was Hamlet’s line “Words, words, words” during a conversation with Polonius. And there was fantastic use of David Tennant’s hair to reflect Hamlet’s state of mind: you have to see the play to understand, but it was just genius.
This is only my second trip to see The Bard’s work on stage, but I have been well and truly bitten by the bug and will be trying to get tickets for all of this season’s productions, not least another trip to see Hamlet. If you’ve never seen any Shakespeare before: do it. It’s not just for theatre buffs and it doesn’t cost a fortune. If you’re aged between 16 and 25, are on summer hols at the moment, and particularly if you’re in the Midlands area, get yourself down to Stratford and queue up for a £5 ticket. It’s more than worth getting out of bed early for.