"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!" Act I, scene ii
|Royal Shakespeare Company ; August 28, 2004 Stratford-upon-Avon, UK|
Starring : Toby Stephens
Reviewed on : 2004-08-18 12:57:13
|There’s a standard of performance that’s expected when one goes to the premier Shakespearean company in the world. This production of Hamlet lived up to that standard and in some ways exceeded it. However, in the end, very little new was brought to the play.
Perhaps the best thing about Michael Boyd’s direction was coupled with the performance of Greg Hicks as the Ghost. This Ghost was a traumatic piece of acting, his bare torso covered in white powder, his body at tormented angles dragging a heavy sword over metal grates creating a screeching metallic sound that sent chills up my spine. Highly effective too was the Ghost’s initial silence, his mouth stretching wide with soundless screams. When he did speak, there was a momentary loss of power until he elongated the words, drew them out to mimic an almost otherworldly moan of dialogue. Hicks was also entertaining as the Gravedigger, a jocular fellow with a wit that almost punctured Hamlet’s. He rounded out his trio of performances with that of the Player King in an almost priest-like garb and distinct demeanour, bringing a severity and nobility to the character that his indeterminate age and appearance did not immediately suggest. Indeed, his performance was perhaps the only one that was unique. The others, including the quite capable Toby Stephens in the title role, presented interpretations that have been seen before especially at the RSC. They were all perfectly good, from Gideon Turner’s fey Laertes to Stephens’ cocky Hamlet. The one performance I did not enjoy was Meg Fraser’s Ophelia – a colourless character whose mad scene felt like an intrusion into a previously cohesive scene.
The set consisted of a single piece: a curved wall of seeming darkened wood with hidden doors and windows. Through this Claudius and Gertrude entered triumphantly, behind this Polonius hides, and in the end, it is this piece that opens to embrace the conquering Fortinbras. The lighting mainly entailed a series of ghostly blues and off-whites and was effective in creating an over-reaching mood. The costumes were a sumptuous and accurate representation of late 16th century dress (save for Fortinbras’ military attendants at the end which seemed nothing so much as First World War uniforms). In the end, however, it was the constant use of one of the aisles to access the stage producing a sense of proximity to the audience that was most interesting.
This production has a lot going for it: the acting, some of the directorial choices, the costumes, et al. But in the end, what excited me was the otherworldly dimension and not the action.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Hamlet in the Presence of His Father's Ghost
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