Friday, 19 April 2013

hamlet - harry kerr, drayton arms

Looking on the Time Out website for somewhere for my possible evening out on Tuesday, I found a Hamlet on in a theatre new to me. I didn't buy online as there seemed to be plenty tickets left, and so after work I made my way to the Drayton Theatre, a room upstairs in the Drayton Arms on Old Brompton Road.

Before I went, the only review hits I got were from The Public Review and Studioclubmag (new to me), which also had a pre-announcement article. (I didn't mind only getting two: I don't like to read too many reviews before I see something, and I tried not to read them too closely; reading them now, they both rather over-egg it, I think.)

The Time Out listing, and other listings, indicated that it was by a Strasberg Method-influenced company, Ouroboros; I'm not sure what difference that should make, but I didn't notice anything obvious.

The Studioclubmag article also had a line, which I think I might have seen in other listings so may have been in their press release, saying 'With the exception of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who are cast as women) the script stays absolutely true to text yet manages to present an interpretation which might just make you revaluate just how much you really knew about this play' - so I wondered what that might mean, but in fact it didn't mean anything for me, although I wasn't disappointed since I didn't really think they could live up to that overstatement. I don't imagine it would have meant that for anyone who was familiar with Hamlet, really, but I may just be overfamiliar. They had the currently fashionable approach that Ophelia is pregnant, with the added twists that she communicates this to Hamlet in the corridor scene (hence his nunnery talk) and that she seems to be inducing an abortion with the rue in her mad scene. Hamlet makes the 'to be or not to be' speech while he is getting ready to shoot up some heroin which R&G have brought for him, but doesn't when he spots Ophelia (not sure how 'true to text' that is...).

All in all, I thought it was pretty good, though a little variable in performance. There was some gabbling of lines, where remembering them and getting them out at speed were achieved but perhaps less so communicating meaning and nuance. But they did start at 8, rather than 7.30, which seemed an odd decision with a play that's long and to be cut down anyway; it finished about twenty to eleven. There was a degree of over-reacting listening too (I think when people are listening their expressions don't change much, but sometimes actors seem to change expression with every clause in a sentence).

Hamlet (Harry Kerr) was fairly good, but a bit too much eye-popping intensity at times. Polonius was pretty good; not too pompous and quite likeable. Gravedigger/Osric (and also Francisco and Reynaldo) was good (Barnaby Ferris); very natural, and I wouldn't be surprised if I saw more of him; very tall, and broad; when I read the biog I saw that he'd been doing stand-up, which perhaps went some way to explaining his relaxed presence. The pre-Hamlet gravedigger scene was interesting; often if there's only one gravedigger they cut the first/second digger dialogue, but here (and they could have had a second digger, so this was obviously a deliberate choice rather than making the best of it - in fact, just noticed in the programme that another actor is also listed as a gravedigger, so there was a change somewhere along the line), the digger was talking to himself, using a skull popped on top of a spade to mouth the second digger's lines, moving the jaw with his hand and saying the lines; it worked well, but took a bit of getting into; I don't often think of ways I think would stage things better, but I think it would have worked better, and got more laughs quicker, if we had seen him picking up the skull in the first place and putting it on top of the spade, bored and amusing himself. Horatio was pretty good, straightforward. Claudius was pretty good, and made a good change in being rather gentle and charming rather than ruthlessly charming, sucked in and further in to sin by love and weakness and desperation. The final line from a ruthless Fortinbras, 'Bid the soldiers shoot' was followed by Horatio and Osric being taken off stage and then clearly it was them being shot. Making R&G female worked fairly well and gave a different dynamic to their relationship with Hamlet, bringing seductive charms; it also - and not sure why it had to wait for them to be women for this to happen - drew out the fact that when they were sent to fetch him after he'd killed Polonius, it was perfectly reasonable for them to be scared taht he might kill them too (which, of course, he did in the end). It was set in the Sixties, but beyond costume and relevant pop music at the start of each half didn't impact significantly. Some of the actors looked a little familiar, but I didn't recognise any of the credits, so probably just making connections through similarities rather than actual recognition.

When you've seen it so often it's easy to focus on the different details of interpretation and staging, and forget to think about what it's like as a whole. If it was your first Hamlet, it wouldn't have been too bad - it was pretty straightforward interpretation, without any major wild punts - but you might have been disappointed with the quality of some of the performances (although less so if you were realistic and remembered you'd paid £13 to see it done above a pub).

It was the night before Mrs Thatcher's funeral. On the way there, going along the Old Brompton Road, I saw two policemen across the road, standing outside a house just off the main road, and when I was on my way home they - or others - were still there, now sitting in a van outside. It was in Rosary Gardens, the only house in the block before Brechin Place. I had a go at it on Google later, but didn't find anything. Who knows whose house it was, or why they were there.