Tuesday, 9 February 2010

hamlet - simon russell beale

I've been listening to another Arkangel Shakespeare from the library, as when I went in last time they had the Hamlet, which has Simon Russell Beale. The CDs are dated 2003, so this may post-date his performance of it at the National Theatre, which I think was around 2000. I don't know how, if at all, the two productions relate, either in casting or approach. Several other well known actors - Imogen Stubbs and Jane Lapotaire as the women, Damian Lewis quite recognisable as Laertes.

The most notable thing about the recording is that since there's no restriction on the length, not being an adaptation of a stage version or produced for broadcast, it's pretty much uncut, so contains lines I've heard rarely or never. The fact that there's nothing outstanding about any of the interpretations I think is an indication of how much of the communication of interpretation is non-verbal. Once again I was struck by the contrast between the portrayal of Polonius as a windy buffoon and not much of a dad and the reputation he has as the most valued adviser and the impact his death has - daughter driven mad, son being proclaimed as next rightful king by the masses. It struck me that Claudius's bad handling of Polonius's death - trying to brush it under the carpet and causing it to become a major source of discontent - may be the first major decision he's had to make without Polonius, and he gets it wrong. When he calls for his most trusted advisers to be gathered after Polonius's death, you can't help but think of Polonius himself being absent. Of course, you also have to consider the very real possibility that Shakespeare isn't quite the genius of plot and character, as opposed to language, and so we just have to go along with the contradiction of Polonius's character and impact as depicted. Hamlet gets away with attributing his murder of Polonius to his madness when it was nothing of the sort; once again his murder of his old school friends R and G is clearly unnecessary. I wondered why Claudius didn't let Laertes kill Hamlet during the graveyard scene, when the opportunity presents itself and Laertes would clearly be up for it, and do without the bother of the plotting in the duel scene. Difference in status between Horatio and Hamlet emphasised in graveyard scene when Hamlet imagining a skull of a courtier saying this my lord and that my lord, sarcastially, and Horatio is saying little more in the scene than yes my lord.

Times interview-based article on Simon Russell Beale. Arkangel Shakespeare on Amazon and BBC Audiobooks America.