Friday, April 20, 2007
Hamlet played by Merfyn Cave
Directed by Mr Gleave
It's become apparent that if I'm going to reach my target I'm going to have to include Hamlets that I've already met, no matter how hazy my memory of them. The first time I saw the play produced was at my secondary school, the Blue Coat in Liverpool. The programme which sits before me (illustrated above) doesn't say what date this was although I'm guessing it would be in 1992/1993 the year I left school. The production was cast from students who were in the first year of their A-Levels and I was one year older than them you see.
My school was lucky enough to have a main school hall that featured exactly the kind of stage that you might find in a theatre or every school-based film you care to mention. Remember the scene in Love Actually with the Nativity with the lobster? We had one of those. I think it might even have been extended forward whilst I was there. Oh and there was also a churchy pipe organ which was never utilized during these sporadic Shakespeare performances, which is a shame.
I remember it being a very lengthy production - I don't think the whole text was included but I imagine it must have stretched on for at least three hours and it was pretty grueling sitting on the typical wooden chairs usually used for assemblies. Fortinbras is listed in the Dramatis Personae so you never know. The programme suggests that there was a interval of ten minutes which in retrospect doesn't seem long enough. I went with my Dad and I know that he fell asleep.
I think the most remarkable thing was the production design. The set designer, Stephen Simpson, who worked on most, if not all of the school productions tended to create something that filled the stage in our main school hall. In the previous year, for Macbeth, that was a giant green set with steps and small caves and hillocks.
For Hamlet he created a giant white space covered in a black grid - imagine a negative version of Star Trek's holodeck and within this the scenes would proceed with thrones and table and whatever was needed ushered in and out. The reason for this design became obvious at the death of Polonius - when Hamlet thrust his blade into the man, the white walls suddenly flashed blood red underlining the point of no return. Amazingly effective.
Inevitably I also remember most vividly Merfyn Cave who played Hamlet. I think he must have lived the role. I don't mean that he murdered his girlfriend's father and his mother married his uncle, I mean that when we were in the Art Room together he would approach me sometimes and fix me in the eye and quote speeches and snatches of dialogue at me. It must have been his way of remembering, but it was downright eerie particularly since he had these very serious eyes, which on reflection he could have been borrowing from a young Al Pacino.
I'd love to say that this was when I fell in love with the play and Shakespeare but it really wasn't. Even though I was studying Othello and Measure for Measure for A-Level which is what prompted this viewing I hadn't yet attuned to the pentameter or even begun to understand the implications of the story. It's a difficult play and I was still trying to work out the motivations of Angelo and Iago without throwing the likes of Claudio into the mix.
It's still fun to look through the programme though and be reminded of people I haven't seen in nearly sixteen years and to wonder what they're doing now and to wish that I'd paid better attention so that I could tell you whether Zoe Johnson was a good Ophelia or if Pete Bouvier really was as wasted as I suspect he must have been as Fortinbras given his charismatic appearance as Ebinarza in that year's pantomime. Two of the other teachers, Mr Preston and Mr Crighton were the grave diggers. That must have been a laugh.
Update! I've found this rather good article from the school magazine that fills in some of the gaps.