Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"stark raving sane"

It's with a certain inevitability that I'm linking to this article from The Times in which theatre critic Benedict Nightingale broods over which Hamlet was the best. Simon Russell Beale comes out quite well all round. The critics says he's seen forty and reviewed thirty-five. I really need to pull me finger out.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Star Trek: The Conscience of the King (1966)

Hamlet played by Marc Grady Adams.
Directed by Gerd Oswald.

The Enterprise is diverted to some random planet when a childhood friend of Kirk’s thinks that Karidian, the leader of a group of travelling players isn’t just one of the great tragedians of the period but also an ex-politician, Kodos, who brought genocide to half of the citizen of the colony which was under his care. All signs point to that being the case, but even though the Captain was at said colony and saw the murderer, he can’t quite convince himself that they are the same man and so it goes on, with Kirk largely in the role of Hamlet, a man who were not quite sure hasn’t gone slightly unhinged as his memories catch up with him.

This was the first time amongst many, many occasions that Star Trek and Shakespeare met and it’s a very odd beast. On the one hand it features a scene which wouldn't look out of place in one of the histories between the trinity of lead characters, Spock and McCoy’s confrontation of Kirk regarding his actions presents one of the most ambiguous conversations about their friendship as the Captain is unusually guarded about his private life with his first officer who sees his job as not only to protect his superior officer, but also the crew from his foibles – in other words if they’re not compatible, the ship is the priority.

On the other it has all of the complexity of Midsummer Murders or Morse, the conclusion, so obviously grasping towards an authentic Shakespearean tragedy, ultimately comes across as that moment when the John’s Nettle or Thaw discover that Richard Briers’s postman character was a war criminal whose been offing the few people who knew it. I think both of those series have had their Shakespeare episodes, but neither of them offered such an incongruous mix of styles, trying to wedge theatre into the gap between space and opera, presenting scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet on an alien world or star ship along with lashings of garbled blank verse.

Fittingly, the scene from Hamlet happens towards the end as Kirk’s conscience finally reveals itself. In the Enterprise’s theatre (who knew the ship had one of those) against what looks like a school panto set, Karidian’s daughter gives a brief introduction to some assembled personnel, and then after cutaway to some other business, we’re confronted by the ghostly Hamlet snr (Karidian behind a masque giving an intentionally mannered performance) imparting to Hamlet the ‘I am your father’s spirit’ speech. I think the resonance were supposed to recognise is that recent events have resurrected some of the ghosts of the past and as Karidian speaks the words he’s coming to terms with what he’s done.

is played by Marc Grady Adams and his job is largely to look surprised and not upstage the lead guest actor, one Arnold Moss (pictured) who two decades before this episode was recorded appeared as Prospero in The Tempest on Broadway for a hundred shows. But what I’d really love to know is whether Mr. Shatner ever played the Dane and if, please god, it was ever recorded. Of course some of his fascination would later be recorded on wax, a suitably off kilter version of ‘To Be or Not To Be’ cropping up on The Transformed Man, nestling next to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. But that’s an analysis for another time, Captain.

Monday, February 18, 2008

'Playing Bit Parts in Shakespeare' by M.M. Mahood

What’s perhaps unique about Hamlet amongst all of Shakespeare’s plays is that despite very much having a central role, the preponderance of smaller roles means that should the director choose to, it can appear as much of an ensemble piece as some of the comedy or history plays. Most stagings however, especially in the theatre, to bring the play down to a ‘manageable’ length, generally cut many of these parts, either handing off some of their dialogue to other characters or omitting their contributions entirely.

Mahmood’s book doesn’t feature a chapter dedicated to the play, but a general thesis does emerge from the few examples included that a director cuts there ‘bit parts’ at his peril and that despite appearances many of them carry rather more narrative or thematic resonance than they’re given credit for. In other words, Hamlet doesn’t really work as ghost story unless Barnado's fear introduces some much needed atmosphere up front.

The most interesting discussion is in relation to Fortinbras. I can’t think of a production I’ve loved which hasn’t included the Norwegian’s presence; as Mahood notes, without Fortinbras it becomes a different play -- a family drama, almost a claustrophobic chamber piece lacking the grand arena of international politics and ironic ticking clock of the impending invasion at the close. I also think you lose extra emotional drag that both of these sons are dealing with the choices of their father with Fortinbras arguably holding the better hand.

The role Osric plays in the final scene is also looked at, and in particular whether he’s the fop he’s most commonly portrayed as. Quite rightly, the author – with help from the likes of Dover Wilson suggests that he could be as duplicitous as Claudius, since its under his guidance that Hamlet agrees to the duel and it’s as sword master that the poisoned weapon makes it into Laertes hands. I’m not so sure – I’ve always thought that Hamlet fights because he’s recognised that he’s reached the end game and this will hasten the inevitable – to think otherwise weakens him somehow.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Three Times

A Likely Story (great blog name by the way) has a useful review of the latest Arden editions of the play -- or rather all three of them. As I've discovered elsewhere, some modern researchers believe that each was simply a version of the play at a different moment in its life and to conflate them as usually occurs still doesn't give a clearer idea of what Shakespeare intended. [via]