22 July 2010

Oh, Woe Is Me, to Have Seen What I Have Seen

I have just come from a terrible Hamlet. I mean terrible. Never mind that my last Hamlet was the one with David Tennant, which is an unfair comparison for whatever the next one is; never mind that I have seen many Hamlets and so judge new ones sternly. This Hamlet was TERRIBLE.

Where to start? Perhaps at the beginning, where they did not start, since they cut the first scene. So perhaps with the Claudius, who was bad. Or the Gertrude,
who looked like Mrs. Pepperpot. Or the Laertes, who had trouble enunciating his "r"s. But, no, let us start with the Hamlet, who was vastly too young, but who was one of those actors who would have been too young to play Hamlet no matter how old he got: he is always going to look about 15, until suddenly he looks about 60. Which meant that his Horatio, who was the right age for the part, looked vastly too old: you couldn't understand how they'd ever be friends.

Then let us move on to the Hamlet's acting. Weeeell...Hamlet is a difficult part. It seems to me one of those parts like Juliet, where you have to be older than the age of the character in order to play the emotion that the character experiences. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a Hamlet - barring one in a college production - younger than his mid-thirties. And to be fair, most Hamlets who aren't really good make the same poor acting choice and decide to play Hamlet's melancholy as anger or crabbiness. Maybe sadness is boring? The problem is, while sadness may be boring, peevishness is downright dull, so the sense I'm always left with in the face of Hamlets who act him crabby rather than melancholy is that they're not terribly interesting. And that's precisely the sense I had with this one, although it wasn't just that. As I said to my parents, once you get a Melancholy Dane who doesn't do melancholy, the only thing left to ask is, How was his Danish accent? and in this case the answer is, Not good. Which is to say, he was a good actor, but he wasn't a good actor for Hamlet. I could maybe see him as Tybalt, and he might be a good Romeo in a few years, but he just doesn't have whatever you need to have to be Hamlet. And he was about five feet four at a maximum, which didn't help.

Aside from that...well, sigh. The Ophelia was better than many Ophelias, but I doubt very much that when Hamlet says to her, "I never gave you ought," Shakespeare intended her to snap back, "You know right well you did!" And when the not very good Claudius played the ghost (who appeared in that perfectly plausible ghostly ensemble of armour breastplate, cardboard crown, thick chain with a big bunch of mortice keys on a ring, and large diaper) he was also not very good.

And, ah, they butchered the text. No fretful porpentine! No "Why, man, they did make love to this employment"! And apparently Old Hamlet compared to Claudius was "Hyperion to a satire," while Hamlet's blandishments to Ophelia were "springs to catch woodcocks." And I suppose that these days it is the custom to emphasise the cunt in "country matters," but the fact that it's the custom doesn't make it any better: it patronises the audience and ruins the joke (you can watch David Tennant do it in this clip).

I had a good deal of time during this production to think about what the experience was like, and in the end I decided: it was like watching the slow-motion slaughter of a group of guinea pigs. You'd think to yourself, Oh, surely not that one; that one's so cute! Then, But now, surely, not this one! This one's even cuter! And that's essentially what I thought. Oh, God, surely they're not going to butcher that scene, too! But they did! The arrival of Horatio? Bang! The harassment of Ophelia? Pyow! Hamlet's rout of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Boom!

I left at the interval.

No comments: