Wednesday, March 30, 2005

01 Nicol Williamson

Hamlet played by Nicol Williamson
Directed by Tony Richardson

The opening moments in any production of Hamlet are critical because the audience, assuming they know the play fairly well, will already be asking the 'How are they going to do...' question. It's the ghost. Hamlet senior. What is he going to look like? In a film, it's an even bigger challenge, because some people watching might expect a special effect. The approach here is a shot of bright light across the young Dane's face and his voice echoing through the frame. The style of the film is already crystallised. It's not about the surroundings or set dressing. It's about the emotion of the piece, the words. In this key moment we are looking in his eyes as he hear's his fathers words, and that's a device used throughout the piece.

On first appearance, Nicol Williamson might seem a bit old for the part. Certainly, I've seen Claudius's who look younger. But that does a disservice to his performance, which commands every scene he appears in. His Hamlet is far from mad; he's using a bluff technique to search for the why's of his father's death and how he's reacting to it. Unusually. in the intimate moments, during the soliloquy's he's at his most vulnerable, as though he's unable to come to terms with these feelings, and only really comes to life when he has someone to relate to.

A very young looking Anthony Hopkins makes a compelling Claudius, who with his gluttony seems like a man who could do wrong. Equally Judy Parfitt passes the test of being attractive enough for a man to kill for even if her skin is worryingly grey. Although not at grey as Ophelia, played by Marianne Faithful who in some shots looks positively black and white, almost as though the trickery of the film 'Pleasantville' had been used. Which is a shame because it detracts from rather a good performance.

The production was filmed at The Roundhouse Theatre which explains that use of extreme close up and the complete lack of establishing shots. The lighting absolutely picks up the actors faces, making what settings there are perfunctory. It mustn't have been a very easy shoot -- most of the speeches and scenes are played out in one shots -- there is very little editing in places, which allows the text the breath. I've seen the play many times and it was a joy on this occasion to hear how much of our language found a basis here.

The main oddity this time are the supporting actors. This is the only Hamlet you'd expect to find Michael Elphick and Angelica Houston standing around in the background, along with Roger Lloyd-Pack popularly known as Trigger in 'Only Fools and Horses'. The latter is particularly distracting because his face is so familiar and he appears, not only as Ronaldo, but also as a player, one of Laertes friends and a miscellaneous bystander in the duel at the end. One man should not have that many different beards. Also worth noting is the approach to the credits at the end, which are spoken, in a style similar to Truffaut's 'Farenheit 451' over a shot of Hamlet.

I watched the dvd of the film on the 30th March 2005.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hamlet purists beware

Charles Spencer reviews Hamlet at the Royal Theatre in Northampton: "Unfortunately, Jane Birkin, still best known for her orgasmically breathy performance on Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je t'aime moi non plus', is a dreadful Gertrude. Still blessed with the ravaged remains of a once considerable beauty, her inexpressive little voice, mannered hand gestures and habit of squinting myopically at whoever she is addressing as if she has just mislaid her specs becomes a real test of the viewer's patience."

Classic Stage Explores Each Act of Hamlet, With Varied Directors and Actors

"an exciting new theatrical experience in which a company of distinguished actors and directors work through and explore each of the four acts of Shakespeare's masterwork in front of an audience," according to the announcement. "Audiences will have the chance to become part of the discovery process of the richness and mystery of Shakespeare's text, as they experience different Hamlets, through varying interpretations and actor and directorial choices."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Stylized madness: 'Hamlet' for the 21st century

"The first clue that director Dylan Lowthian's is a more comic "Hamlet" arises from the costumes, which are pantomime evocations of 17th-century dress. The dominant color is black. All the male characters are decked out in black Wellingtons (rubber boots, to the uninitiated), but Prince Hamlet wears a pair of black-and-white Converse (medieval basketball shoes). The black is accessorized by whiteface makeup, absurd white collars (worn by all characters but Hamlet) and, for the female characters, white pompoms."

Hamlet, thy name is madness

"Brun has the cast in very contemporary costumes, including camouflage wear for guards, Queen Gertrude in a First Lady type suit, Hamlet and his buddies in classic college duds, and two other women, Rosencrantz (Teddy Minford) and Guildenstern (Anja Sundali), in no-nonsense pant suits."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hamlet's Cat's Soliloquy

"To go outside, and there perchance to stay
Or to remain within: that is the question:
Whether tis better for a cat to suffer
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather
That Nature rains upon those who roam abroad,
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet,
And so by dozing melt the solid hours
That clog the clocks bright gears with sullen time
And stall the dinner bell .... "

[via Sore Eyes]

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Going Awry On the Oscars

"Lisa de Moraes's March 1 column on the Oscar telecast was amusing and informative, but I protest her characterization of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as "the drivel you're forced to memorize in school."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

This Is How You Remind Me Of Hamlet

"iTunes was set to random and I'm just lying on the couch re-reading a couple of scenes from Act III. Up pops Nickleback's "This Is How You Remind Me," because while I may have made fun of the band awhile back, I still kinda dig the song. In fact, I've heard it many, many times -- yet tonight the song changed: somehow I heard Hamlet singing the song."

Why doesn't Hamlet kill his uncle immediately after his father's visitation?

"Hamlet is a momma's boy. His concern throughout the play is not primarily on avenging his father's murder, but on chastising his beloved mother. From the beginning, Hamlet is more upset about his mother's hasty remarriage than about his father's death. In his first monologue (I . 2 : 129-159), wherein he reveals the cause of his despondency, Hamlet speaks almost exclusively of his mother's crime, famously noting, "frailty, thy name is woman." And when, in response to his father's charge, Hamlet turns his attention to thoughts of revenge, he first exclaims, "O most pernicious woman" before thinking of his uncle (I . 5 : 105). It is his mother's crime that weighs most heavily on his heart."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A meditative 'Hamlet'

"This is most certainly a production worth seeing. In the intimate Black Box Theatre, you feel as if you are part of the story, as these very talented actors bring to life a challenging script. To make the production as true to Shakespeare's intent as possible, Borgers has even chosen the script from the Second Quarto, which is considered the most accurate publication of the original play."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

To be Shakespeare Shakespeare or modernized Shakespeare: That is the question.

Robert Croghan designed the bland, faux-marble set. A humongous wheel thingy hangs from the ceiling during the final scene. Swinging back and forth (unintentionally, methinks) on Friday night, it looked like it was about to crash to the stage and gore poor Hamlet. That would put a daring twist on the play, come to think of it, though it would mean it could run only a single night.