02 August 2008

Speech after Long Silence

Wow, it feels as if I haven't written in ages.  But then, it feels like I've been here for ages, and it's only been less than a month.  Well, for the last week I had a friend visiting, and in the weekbefore that I was genuinely trying to work, so I haven't had much time to write.

First of all, I decided that anonymity of blog is at some point going to be pure fantasy, anyway, and the more I looked at the picture of me in the topiary chair, the more I liked it and felt it should be out for all to see.  So here it is.  Size of bottom half due to too-large trousers.

So...my friend had never been to London for any length of time, and as a result she and I did all the touristy things (and walked all over the place - my feet hurt for virtually the whole time she was here, not that I minded one bit).  The great thing about this was that I got to do the tourist-y stuff without actually being a tourist:  I was the guide, you see.  I told my friend about one of my very favourite episodes of Blackadder, the one in series two in which Edmund falls in love with his "manservant" and goes to see the Wise Woman for advice.  He stops to ask a young crone for directions (he actually calls her this:  "Thank you, Young Crone.  Here is a purse of monies...which I'm not going to give to you"), and when she speaks to him in a ludicrous rustic accent - "Is this Putney?"  "Tha' i' be; tha' i' be!" - he says to her, " 'Yes, it is, not 'that it be.'... I'm not a tourist!"  I always long to say that when I talk to people in London, since I imagine they all assume I'm an American on vacation, and I can't bear the humiliation of being thought a tourist.  Anyway, this was perfect, because I got to see once more the tourist places, which I quite like, while incurring none of the imagined contempt from the locals.

After my friend went, I set off for Stratford to see David Tennant in Hamlet.  David Tennant, 
as the world seems to know, is the current Dr. Who, and this Hamlet is quite the hot ticket (there's a picture of him as Dr. Who on the left.  I put in one of him in glasses because, as a myopic myself, I'm always ludicrously pleased to see celebrities in spectacles). When I got my seat in March, they were already virtually sold out, so I had to sit way up in the gallery.  Shortly before the night of my performance rolled around, there was an article in the paper saying that Patrick Stewart was also in this production, playing Claudius and The Ghost. An added bonus!  The article also mentioned that tickets for the production were going on e-bay for as much as £215! (we'll come back to this).  It also also mentioned that fans were being forbidden to bring science fiction memorabilia for signing, which I found funny.

Anyhow, when I got to the theatre, it was indeed pretty packed (although through the entire performance there were three seats empty in the very front rows.  Yes, before you say anything, I did ask if I could go sit in them, and, no, I couldn't).  Up in the gallery, it was pretty clear that the fans weren't there for love of The Bard (also up in the gallery was a young woman with the largest breasts I've ever seen on someone who wasn't in a magazine.  She wasn't shy about them, either, if you know what I mean). But they might as well have been there for love of the Bard, because the play was extremely good. First of all, Patrick Stewart, although only good as Claudius, was terrific as the Ghost of Old Hamlet.  All the Ghosts I've ever seen (and I should say here that I have seen a lot of Hamlets. It's my favourite Shakespeare, and some time ago I simply decided I'd see every one I could) play the part solemn, often weighted by sadness, certainly aware of the gravity of their errand.  Stewart's Ghost was angry: he was mad as hell that he'd been cut off even in the blossom of his sin; no sloughing off of the earthly for him (plus, somehow they made him smoke - little wisps of smoke came off him - which was quite cool).  It was a striking interpretation.

Tennant was similarly, and similarly strikingly, human.  Again, Hamlets
usually have an air of awareness about them.  They might not actually pause before they deliver the soliloquies, but they always give me the sense that they are pausing inside themselves, that they are aware of the weight that comes with their performance.  Tennant did not do that.  Not only that, but he truly did make his utterances fresh.  The very first soliloquy, "Oh, that this too, too solid..." he performed as if grief-stricken, truly so.  One reason why I like the play so much is that it is, at bottom, simply about a family, and about the break-up and reconstruction of a family.  Old Hamlet has died and been replaced as king by Claudius, sure, but for Hamlet his daddy has died, and no one has given him the mourning that Hamlet thinks he deserves.  And his mummy, so loved by his father, has quickly forgotten all about him and cleaved unto someone else - someone unworthy simply by virtue of being someone else.  And Tennant got this just right in that first soliloqy.  He wasn't angry at political wrongs, or melancholy because he was filled with black bile:  he was overwhelmed with grief because his father was dead and un-noted.  I had this sense of the hurts of the play as personal again quite clearly in the closet scene, in which he and Penny Downie really did seem to be mother and son. Here, though, I couldn't help thinking what it must be like for him to play that scene, as his own mother died only a year ago. Of course, what do I know? It could have no resonances at all.  But there was something poignant for me, as an audience member, in seeing this long, lanky man with his head in his "mother's" lap, seeking comfort from her as if he were a small child. Again, touchingly human.

It turned out that this was a preview night, and there were some rather arresting quirks. First of all, the Ghost excised my favourite line of the play!  I don't know whether this was a directorial decision, or whether Stewart simply forgot (I doubt that), but when he was describing to Hamlet the horrors of his post-mortem life and the effect their description would have on him, he mentioned that it would "harrow up his young soul," and "make his two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres," but he left out "Thy knotted and combined locks to part, / And each particular hair to stand on end, / Like quills upon the fretful porpentine."  He left out the fretful porpentine!  Perhaps even worse, and certainly more disconcerting, Tennant left out part of the "To be or not be" speech.  I always eagerly wait for "the proud man's contumely," because it's such an odd and arresting phrase.  But it was gone!  This was a very disconcerting moment for me:  indeed, for a split second I instinctively wanted to shout out, "wait - what about the proud man's contumely?" (perhaps I should have fluttered down a little note reading, If you want, I'll run lines with you.  Or perhaps not). In fact, I think he forgot - or was told to leave out - a couple of lines in there.  Oops.  Not as bad, but nonetheless striking, was the leaving out of ANOTHER of my favourite lines, during the exchange with Ophelia during the play.  When she says, "You are keen, my lord, you are keen," he responds, "It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge," a sexual pun of wit and promptitude that I can only aspire to. Gone!  Good heavens. Fortunately, "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room" (strong contender for favourite line) and, "Why, man, they did make love to this employment!" both remained - although Horatio mucked up the line before, by saying, "So Guildenstern and Rosencranz are dead," instead of, "So Guildenstern and Rosencranz go to't." And I must confess I found this Hamlet to be a little too antic a little too soon (without meaning to, I thought of the Slings and Arrows song:  "your antic disposition is embarrassing to see, / and by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is to be").  I didn't want him gloomy, but there were times I would have liked him to calm down.

Aside from these crinkles, though, it was really quite excellent, and Tennant was so, too.  So much so, in fact, that I'm going to try to get a ticket for the London production - a better seat this time.  In order to do this at this stage, one must be a member of the RSC, and even then there are no guarantees.  So I became a member of the RSC.  I figure the worst that will happen is that there will be no tickets at the moment, so I'll have to book when more come available in mid-September.  I'm going to try for the dates around Christmas, those seeming to me most likely to be free, and I'm going to book two.  My best friend may be coming to visit me then, and if she isn't perhaps I can sell the other on e-bay.  Fingers crossed that I can get good ones...  (and, yes, they did acknowledge Caspar David Friedrich in the program.)

Travelling back on the train today I suddenly became aware of how happy I am here.  I've had experience that tells me that loving a place in the summer, when one need not work, is quite a different thing from loving it in the snow or rain, when encumbered by a job.  Still, though, I am vastly happier at present than I was in America, and since the only thing that's changed is my location, I must believe that that has at least something to do with it.  Maybe it's because the country is so small - everywhere is near, so the place opens out like a hand before you, rather than being distant and isolated in the way America is. 

I don't know.

No comments: