Sunday, 24 October 2010

A very modern Hamlet

At what point is one able to consider themselves to be a Shakespearean? Going to see this production of “Hamlet” has marked an exciting new era in my theatregoing life. Instead of choosing to go and see a Shakespeare because I thought I should, as was the case with “Macbeth” way back in May, I actually went to see “Hamlet” because I really wanted to. I even read the play by myself prior to attending, which could be considered insignificant, for I read plays all the time. However, for me, this is extraordinarily significant because, up until now, I had put off reading Shakespeare, mainly because of the way it’s always been read at school. Now, though, I am a true Shakespeare convert. That rather expensive copy of “King Lear” I purchased almost a year ago may finally get read now.

Anyway, I had never seen a production of a Shakespeare play outside of the Globe or another open air venue until yesterday. Strangely, I managed to forget it was Shakespeare as I watched. Considering that the play was written to be performed on an almost bare stage with no artificial lighting or sound design, the production seemed to fit the piece remarkably well. What helped was that it was not done in period dress – it was also the first time that I had ever seen one of Shakespeare’s plays lifted out of the Jacobean era. This just goes to show how any piece of literature, provided it is about people, can be relevant to life in the twenty first century. In fact, any piece of literature is relevant, because ever piece of literature is about people. Even if a story is not about human beings, it must have character and relationships in some way. All stories are written by humans, therefore these characters will have the characteristics of humans, because we know of nothing else. I am not sure this really makes sense, but just recently I have become fairly interested in philosophy.

I think I will now start the actual review, after that rather peculiar interlude. The production was sold out, which shows the true selling power of Shakespeare, even in today’s financial climate. As previously mentioned, the first thing that struck me about the production was the lighting and sound design; many of the scene changes were punctuated by loud blasts of music, and the ghost of Hamlet’s father looked eerily realistic, thanks to the lighting design. The set was simple, it did not remain static, but the same pieces were moved throughout the show, if that makes sense. I am not sure what I think about the set, in some ways I liked the way it visually represented changes of scene, but at the same time part of me couldn’t help feeling as though it was not really necessary, for at points some of the action seemed to become lost.

The production was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who is also artistic director of the National. I really am starting to love his work, and thought that the staging was perfect. What I have noticed, both in this and in “The Habit of Art”, is that he has a really good way of making you care about as many characters as possible.

I had only read the play once and not in great depth, but now, after seeing the play, I want to read it and analyse it again and again. This is partly due to the interpretations of the characters by the cast, which helped make the play interesting throughout. At three hours and forty five minutes, it was probably the longest play that I have ever sat through, but I did not become bored or even look at my watch once.

I enjoyed Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Hamlet. Having heard his name a lot, but never actually seen him in anything, my expectations were not disappointed. He portrayed the vulnerable side of the character very well, which evoked much empathy in me.

Ruth Negga brought an excellent energy to Ophelia, and stole the stage each time she was on it, making me wish that Ophelia had more lines. I had not really noticed her character through reading the play, but now I feel like I understand it a lot more.

Overall, the whole cast gave very enjoyable performances, working well as an ensemble whilst standing out as individuals. If I were not gradually trying to cut down the length of my reviews, I would write more. Seeing this production makes me wish that I had seen more Hamlets and knew the play in greater detail, because only then would I be able to make truly informed comments concerning interpretation. I am really looking forward to seeing another production of “Hamlet”, and possibly studying it in my second year of A Level studies.

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