Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Hamlet played by Will Houston
Directed by Michael Mundell
This is the first time I've seen the 'To Be Or Not To Be' speech with Hamlet standing on the edge of a cliff thinking about jumping in. At least I don't think I've seen it before. But that reflects this production overall, a grab bag of moments which seem very familiar, and not just because it's an oft produced play. Perhaps there are only so many ways you can present certain scenes.
This is a bit of an oddity. After looking about online I've found that this production was created for the education market. Which is possibly why it feels like a greatest hits of the play rather than an attempt to tell a cohesive story. The big moments for me such as the appearance of the Ghost and the set up for The Mousetrap are textually given short shrift whilst not a solliquey is lost. Some scenes end mid-speech with the characters walking offscreen or by simply cutting away. It generally doesn't feel like it's telling the story -- there isn't the emotional punch which the really good productions can give even though we've heard the dialogue and know the story by heart.
Under those circumstances that in the end Will Houston's Hamlet turns out quite well. He starts the play totally mad, in high pitched Berkoff mode all gestures and squeeking, looking upon that Ghost as being perfectly normal, almost as though he'd been waiting for him to show up. But during the flow of the play, Houston slips towards the sane with a slight glint in his eye that actually its the rest of the world which is insane.
He is hampered, though, by the production. Shot on video on location in Peebles and Stratford it seems to have been recorded in sometimes tiny spaces using a multiple camera set up. In places this means the framing is in entirely the wrong place for key moments -- we see much of Ophelia's madness in the bottom right of the frame hidden behind the back of an actor and a table. It's not a stylistic choice, it's just that the camera couldn't get there. Also, what's happening with the ghost? Someone's obviously found a setting on the camera which renders the picture through filter creating an outline effect -- it robs Hamlet Snr of his dignity.
The sound is extremely off putting in places. The producers have chosen to use the dialogue recorded 'on the day' which is fine, even if it means some of it sounds like it was recorded in a portacabin. The problem is that in many places the words are drowned out by sound effects dubbed in to create scene (crowds, or birds, or both) and the incidental music which comes along the point out when there is an important dramatic moment happening which we can't miss. Sometimes it's a bit inappropriate especially because it sounds like it's from stock and doesn't ebb and flow properly with the dialogue.
In the positives though, Gareth 'Blake's Seven' Thomas is a good Claudius (especially in the closing stages when it becomes clear that everything has gone horribly wrong), Lucy Cockram make a decent Ophelia and there are good performances throughout the rest of the cast, including Christopher Timothy's Gravedigger. And there are some lovely scene setting shots in the first hour of the film which have been recorded at some kind of medieval re-enactment day which are fun. It feels like a Doctor Who fan video - a group of people getting together to make a tribute to something they love -- at no point does anyone seem to be going through the motions and this generally sustains things through to the end.
I watched the dvd of this production on the 27th April 2005.