01 November 2008

RSC Production Review: Hamlet

The production for Hamlet was an interesting, sometimes bizarre, mix of modern and old. For the most part, all the costuming was in modern dress. From summer dresses, tuxedos, Levi's 501, t-shirts, etc. However, the dialog was the original (although I don't know enough about the different Hamlet versions to tell you which one they used).

The stage at The Courtyard Theatre is minimal. Six mirrored panels line the back of the stage, the panels are probably 20 feet tall and they pivot in the center. They aren't necessarily mirrors, but are made of reflective material. The flooring of the stage are 3x3 tiles of what looks like black marble, but could not actually be marble; however, the tiles are black, shiny and reflective. The stage itself is surrounded on three sides by the audience which provides for a very intimate production, one which facilitates actor-audience interaction. This is the standard setting for The Courtyard as their trademark is minimalism. Hamlet had very few set pieces. For the most part it's a black, barren, almost cold, stage.

I'll start by saying overall the production was fantastic. There were four actors in the play that I knew or recognized. As you first took your seat all you saw was a poorly-lit black, reflective stage with a haze. It was very much like you were walking into the darkness of Denmark. The first scene is of the guards on watch at the castle. The only lighting were 2 large flashlights which the actors reflected off the floor to light the faces of the speaker. It was a very cool effect. When the ghost appears he is lit by a dim spotlight and has "fog" pouring from under his coat. It is an eerie effect. Right away you realize you are watching some very good actors.

Hamlet was played by David Tennant physically, vocally and emotionally. His Hamlet was child-like, sometimes playful and pouting, naive, at other times clearly mature, cold, calculating. During the first soliloquy, he's in the back of the stage, crouched down in a fetal position... it's such a vulnerable, infant-like, subtle symbol of his grief and confusion. Tennant really acts with his body, whether it's jumping around, shoulders hunched, arms outstretched, you forget who he is as a person (as if I know him) and see him completely as Hamlet. His madness is utterly painful one moment and profoundly confused the next. He really draws in the audience to his insanity and then seems to push us away with clarity the next. The "get thee to a nunnery" scene was probably the best live acting I've seen. It gave me chills and tears at the same time. My friend told me later she knew I liked the scene because I muttered "wow.... wow... " I wasn't aware that I had done that.

The production really put a personality to the play that I haven't seen before in any other rendition. The director and the actors deserve a lot of credit for a very good play. I think I will be absorbing it for several more days.

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