Sunday, 12 December 2004

Hamlet (Toby Stephens)

I saw Hamlet again last Tuesday - an RSC production, at the Albery Theatre, with Toby Stephens in the lead role. As a fortnight ago, full of A-level students, mostly girls. I had restricted view seats at side of grand circle, but it was pretty much sold out, so no upgrades this time. For the second half I stood at the back of the grand circle, which was much better.

The indisposition of Greg Hicks meant there was a chain of understudies, from the ghost and player king down (was meant to be Greg Hicks, was John Killoran). JK was very good (after a tittered-at entrance as the ghost, made up in white and topless). The ghost is usually doubled by the player king or , more often, Claudius.

The interval came in the middle of the players’ play, where Claudius calls for lights, and the second half started up again at the same point. The Barbican interval came at the end of that scene, again in the middle of continuous action; before the play scene would be a more obvious place in play-time, where there’s a gap of a day, but not dramatically, or timewise in the production, I guess).

Ophelia’s was reminiscent of the mad Scotswoman in Green Wing when mad. Her mad singing was in tune, unusually; dramatic convention seems to require that if one is mad, one gains the desire to sing bonkers songs but loses the ability to sing in tune. The gravedigger’s mate appeared to be being played by Ophelia, possibly because of understudy reshuffling, which gave the opportunity for a reflective look on exit, before entrance as dead Ophelia.

Forbes Masson played Horatio; okay, but a bit cold, matching Hamlet really. His career trajectory has been rather different from his old double act partner Alan Cumming). I saw FM in an excellent Edinburgh Fringe production of a play about Laurel and Hardy by John McGrath.

Toby Stephens was Hamlet - he played him posh, which is unusual but obviously makes perfect sense. He was rather haughty and cold, with no sense of really having been friends with R&G or even Horatio. When mad, reminiscent of Rik Mayall with hint of Eddie Izzard when mad.

The set was circular; wooden floorboards, vertical wooden wallboards, no real doors (at the Barbican it was black walls, rectangular, no real doors).

There was an interesting point in the programme about the length of the play (some good articles in prog, in fact; often prog articles bear no relation to the production; the Barbican programme had an article referring to ‘dreamt of in your philosophy’ (Hamlet to Horatio), but ‘dreamt of in our philosophy’ was the version used in the production; the Young Vic prog in fact made a big deal about using the ‘our’ version, but actually I think that’s what I’ve mostly heard used) - ‘Scholars traditionally prefer the second quarto because it is the fullest text and apparently the one closest to Shakespeare’s original manuscript. But it has recently been suggested that this may represent a ‘reading text’ as opposed to a ‘performance’ one. Coming in at around 4000 lines, second quarto Hamlet could never have been played in full within the 160 or so minutes that was the legal maximum for an Elizabethan play (shows began at 2pm and the theatre had to be cleared by 5). Shakespeare must be cut for performance and with a play as long as Hamlet he must have known that he would be.’

In this production I heard lines and bits of scenes I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before (including Horatio telling Gertrude how Hamlet escaped, rather than Hamlet telling Horatio, and which makes clear that Gertrude’s on Hamlet’s side).

Hamlet’s ambition gets mentioned a significant amount, but a big deal is rarely made of his desire to be king and his having been usurped (even if Claudius had married Gertrude, the son would surely take precendence in the succession?).

The last (fencing) scene was very well done, use of plaintive piano accompaniment to emphasise the inevitability and tragedy, rather than excitement; it’s made clear (then and in scenes leading up to it) that various of the characters know that bad things are going to happen - Gertrude knows the cup is poisoned, Horatio and Hamlet obviously think so too; usually when Laertes asks for another blade it’s to pick up the poisoned one, here he had the poisoned one and was thinking about swopping it for a clean one, but decides against it and doesn’t take it.

The final scene and the ghost/player king’s performance were the best things about this production. No one was bad, no one apart from g/pk was really good; Osric was flat and unflamboyant, but that was one of the roles being understudied.

According to Luke

[On Luke 18:35-43]
But it was a very different vision [from the persistent widow’s] that filled the eyes of the blind man when his persistence was rewarded: not, of course, the Son of man appearing in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels; but not even a figure in royal clothes, with a noble entourage, on his way to his throne. Simply a dust-stained traveller. on his way to Jerusalem, and, as we have just been reminded (see 18:31-33), on his way to being mocked, insulted, spit on, scourged and killed. ... When he eventually saw what happened to the King at Jerusalem, perhaps he realised that if the King had not come near enough for men to spit on him, he might not have come near enough to hear a blind man’s cry.
- David Gooding, According to Luke; IVP, 1987, p297.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

eats, shoots and leaves

Private Eye got stuck in a bit to Lynne Truss's book about the decline of grammar and punctuation (I haven't read it, but by all accounts she seems to have just a few hobbyhorses and not be too bothered, or well-researched or accurate, about other issues), starting with the sub-title ('zero-tolerance', surely, rather than 'zero tolerance', they say), but the New Yorker really went to town. Some of the quotes they pull out certainly suggest they're right to do so.

(First para of the review: 'The first punctuation mistake in “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” (Gotham; $17.50), by Lynne Truss, a British writer, appears in the dedication, where a nonrestrictive clause is not preceded by a comma. It is a wild ride downhill from there. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” presents itself as a call to arms, in a world spinning rapidly into subliteracy, by a hip yet unapologetic curmudgeon, a stickler for the rules of writing. But it’s hard to fend off the suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax.')

therapy for poor people

'It’s called friendship - you know - it's like therapy for poor people.'
- a line (woman explaining that she wasn't having an affair with the man she spoke with regularly in the pub) on Without A Trace last night.