David Tennant is a very, very fine actor. Of that there can be no doubt.
In fact, watching him work his way through the many "slings and arrows" thrown
at any actor attempting the role of Hamlet lends even more credence to the above
claim re: Tennant's abilities. So why am I disappointed after watching the much
heralded PBS airing?
Tennant plays the "peevish manic" not well. Not that he's incapable. He
disproved that incessantly from the time he opened his mouth. Something about
his features; too angular. And practically speaking, he grimaced his way from
start to finish. At times, I thought I might be watching The Riddler (Frank
Gorshin) from the old Batman series. The only thing Tennant was missing
was Gorshin's costume with the question marks all over it. And it was difficult
to separate Tennant's manic "crazy person" from the character of Hamlet. Something way too gimmicky was going on; way too cutesy and way too "easy" in the antic disposition dept. for me. An actor with Tennant's abilities need not go the route habitually taken by him.
It undercut Hamlet's intelligence and distracted from what he was saying of
import. Energy is one thing--lunatic energy something else. Tennant had the
latter in spades, making a johnny one note performance out of the whole shebang.
But what really bothered me is that it made Hamlet totally unlikeable; sadly,
and worse, his overdone mania made me not care a hoot about Hamlet or his predicament. I kept feeling as though I needed a flyswatter as a remedy for this Gadfly on Uppers. In fact, I cared about Claudius' travails the more for Tennant's interpretation. Something very wrong here. I hate Claudius.
Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius gave the solid performance expected of him. His
ability with the conversational aspect of Shakespeare's lines has grown to
perfection. Probably the result of cross-pollination--tv, film, and stage--as
this production skirted the boundaries of all three in design. What can one say?
He was great--until he turned into the embodiment of Alfred E.
Neuman in his 'decision' to drink the poison. A "choice" apparently thought
quite brilliant--again suffering from an apparent penchant for easy, cute,
cleverness. An action most probably explained in the program notes--but I had
none at the time. It ruined the entire moment for me--or, what was left of it.
Gertrude (Penny Downie) also proved very adept at making Shakespeare's
lines soar on the wings of understandability. Her gradual decline from hostess with the mostest to a figure withered by the tragedy all around her was an artful thing to watch, particularly since it wasn't achieved totally with the sole help of the makeup
Can someone tell me with what disease was Polonius suffering? The part, played
by (Oliver Ford Davies ) a brilliant actor in his own right, was yet
another victim of modern "cutesy". Was he in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's?
Or was he just a buffoon at these times? I have to say he handled it brilliantly,
and almost made me forget his clownishness during the rest of his portrayal of a
calculating Machiavellian. I especially liked the idea of the inclusion of the
Reynaldo scene (usually cut). But even there, his "forgetfulness" was excused
rather than explained. Polonius is a man always thinking of something else,
some other "designs", and always has too much to say to "explain" himself. He's
not, I don't think, pitiable because he's being ravaged by some "affliction"
(other than his own machinations.)
Ophelia, played by (Mariah Gale)--well, I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
No customary glamor queen (although pleasant looking enough to be desirable on
anyone's part) she was riveting. She brought a true vulnerability to the role
for me that few others have. Her plaintiff cries over the loss of her
Hamlet's " ...noble mind o'erthrown." were heart wrenching.
This was no mere statue of a child, suffering a tragedy she didn't understand
because of gross naiveté. Hers was an Ophelia quite knowledgeable of the ways
of the world, as she was able to explain and support even further in her deft
crafting of the "mad scene". Her awareness of just what it was that was happening
to her made me feel for her all the more. This is someone to watch for, all things
being equal, which they're not. Let's hope the lack of "model status" doesn't keep
this actor from the recognition I think she truly deserves.
The rest; Horatio (Peter De Jersey), Laertes (Edward Bennet), Rosencrantz
(Sam Alexander) Guildenstern (Tom Davey) were all capable enough in their roles,
as one would expect from RSC actors. But I think they suffered conceptually from
having to play against Tennant's maniacal court jester throughout.
Speaking of concept, all around I thought it was quite good in establishing the
modern setting for Shakespeare. And the clearness of the language was admirable. But ultimately, I think the gross deviations, as I see them, can also be laid at the foot of the concept person and Director, Gregory Doran. Failing to rein in Tennant (possibly even encouraging him, in view of some of the other ridiculous "crazy" choices seemingly made for both Hamlet and the other actors) gave us a Hamlet with an energetic mania too serious to be overcome by even the power of the greatest concept artist of all, one William Shakespeare. JM