Saturday, October 31, 2009

David Tennant on Hamlet

David Tennant only ever gave one interview about his time in Hamlet. Here it is:
"Even if you read a play once you have preconceptions and notions about it. It's hard to be specific about things, because things are so gradual, and also talking about it now at the end of a run, it's quite difficult to work out where you were at the beginning, especially with a play like this that changes from night to night. I do remember being surprised, because I had always assumed that Hamlet and his father had a slightly distant relationship, that his father was a slightly distant patrician, quite a bellicose figure with whom Hamlet didn't really identify. But whilst I do think that they are very different, I remember that once we actually started playing those scenes, there was a sense of the bond that they had and a sense of that paternal connection, and I was quite taken aback by that."
I'm going to save reading this properly until I've seen the film. I don't want to preconceptions. Even productions of four hundred year old plays can have spoilers, I think, even if it's just spoiling the interpretation [via].

Saturday, October 24, 2009

22 Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet played by Kenneth Branagh
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

One of my favourite moments in Hamlet as directed by Mr Kenneth Branagh is the reintroduction of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Timothy Spall and Reese Dinsdale, hanging from the side of a steam engine as it sweeps through the Elsinore snow to be greeted by their friend at the platform. For two characters usually at the bottom of the casting pecking order and whose entrance is too often treated less importantly than most others, it’s an expression of the film’s inclusiveness. It says, this film doesn’t just have a script that includes nearly every scrap of coherent text knocking about in which all of the characters are cast as though their the most important figure in the story, but each and every one of them will be rendered in a way which is more memorable than you’ve ever seen before.

I love Branagh’s Hamlet. It’s not just my favourite Hamlet film adaptation, it’s one of my favourite films period. I was already excited by the prospect on its release in 1996; having enjoyed both Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing and adored In The Bleak Midwinter and was so desperate to see it I travelled out to Manchester (a far rarer occurrence then) on the week of release even though the print was going to be moving to Liverpool within seven days. Sitting amongst the small audience in screen five of the now closed Odeon on Oxford Road I was in rapture from start to finish, so much so I almost forgot to eat the chocolate bread I’d taken along for refreshment (we ate some weird foods in the 1990s). It was in those four hours I fell in love with the play.

Which means I’m hardly in a position of offer the usually objective first-impression style review. I’ve seen the film many times since and even own a copy in the Video-CD format (were it’s spread across five whole discs). I suspect many of the prejudices I have about the play (the importance of including Fortinbras whatever the cost etc) were born out of my love for this film. It’s secretly been the yardstick against which I’ve compared all of these productions and watching it again for the purposes of the project (I’ve deliberately stayed away since I began writing this blog), I simply couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I tried, lord knows I did. But look – Ophelia’s in a straight jacket. How cool is that?

I was all prepared to even slam Branagh’s performance having seen or heard twenty other men and one girl say the same words. But I can’t. He’s brilliant. There’s no discussion here about whether the prince is mad. He’s sane. Deliberately so from the moment he first appears in the throne room to the duel. He knows he’s gone a bit too far now and then – the killing of Polonius – but everything is an act. And by eradicating that ambiguity, Branagh creates a skein of tension as thick as an undercover spy thriller as we hope and pray he won’t be found out until he’s able to reap revenge on his step-father.

And it's not just Ken. There’s not a bum performance here. Not one. And in casting, the director seems to have deliberately commemorated different levels and eras of acting. There are obvious contingents from Liverpool and Hollywood, from the RSC old and new. His usual repertory of actors are all there too, many carried over from In The Bleak Midwinter, but none of it is incongruous and over and over we see performers that would not share a scene anywhere else. Look it’s Richard Briers giving Gérard Depardieu orders. Simon Russell Beale joking around with Billy Crystal. Perdita Weeks standing next to Charlton Heston.

On the dvd commentary, Branagh jokes that it’s become known as the eternity version and whilst it's true that at nearly four hours it can be an effort to sit down and watch the thing, the time snaps by and the viewer is rewarded with as clear an interpretation of the story as they’re ever likely to see. Nowhere else have witnessed the clarity with which Hamlet’s feigned madness is attributed to Polonius’s banning of Ophelia from seeing him been inscribed with such clarity. By seeing all of the political machinations we can interpret that once Claudius was a sympathetic figure who may have killed his brother to save the kingdom, the marriage to Gertude a way of suturing the throne rather than simply a power grab.

It’s all there. Indeed, there’s almost an overload of ideas. Most productions get by on a couple of good suggestions, whatever can be squeezed in by the director in the rehearsal period or shooting or recording schedule. Here, in every scene, every character has an angle, every line is laced with meaning. Tiny touches. Polonius dies with a smile on his face and somehow continues to be an active participant in the bedchamber even as the rest Hamlet’s encounter with his mother. It’s perfectly clear from the off during To Be Or Not Be that Hamlet knows he’s being watched, with Claudius and his chief counsellor almost filling in for the audience. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio with the latter almost his madness valve, pointing out when the former has gone too far.

There have been criticisms too of the interpolations; the flashbacks to Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship before the play (which indeed could be her imagination but I don’t like to think so) including the tender moment post coitus when he speaks dialogue which is otherwise reported by letter. It re-engineers the meaning of the play, “they” say, applies ideas not Shakespeare’s own. Well, firstly, they’re less obtrusive than in Olivier’s version which in the main are generally illustrative and secondy isn’t the play’s meaning up for grabs? Doesn’t every director present an interpretation? Cut the opening battlements scenes and you can imply the ghost, revenge and all that really are just figments of Hamlet’s imagination, that he has been sent mad with grief and that his father died of natural causes.

The film’s also extraordinarily beautiful. Shooting on 70mm, Alex Thomson creates vistas about the exterior location on Blenheim Palace, making full use of the period detailing, underscoring the grand old royalty of the Hamlets. On the commentary, Branagh suggests that the best way to see the film would be projected onto an IMAX screen and he’s quite correct. Seems a tragedy that likes of Transformers 2’s 35mm print is blown up to that size, only really serving to increase the incoherence of the editing, whilst a piece with stately shots that repay extended scrutiny were until the dvd release left to languish on VHS. The clarity of the image helps to weight the actors performance, as even the tenderest of gestures, such as Winslet’s slight holding of Branaghs hand at the end of the throne room scene are magnified.

In those extras, Branagh is keen to point out that the film would not have seen a shiny disc had it no been for the internet campaign. It’s lovely, unstarry gesture, and a recognition that the afterlife of some films, even what seem like big studio productions rest in the hands of the viewers. The tragedy is, that while Hamlet’s out there now (and long enough to be relatively cheap to buy), In The Bleak Midwinter, the comedy he made just before hand about putting on a production of the play in a church (my review here) still hasn’t appeared. That’s a disaster. What do we think it would take for Warner Bros, the current rights holders, to give that the release it deserves too?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Competition Results

Sorry for the lateness of posting this. The answer to question in the competition to win Hamlet and Henry V on blu-ray courtesy of ITV DVD was ...

"Never more than kin and less than kind..."

And the winners were

Neil Perryman and Kevin Anderson.

They have been informed. And thanks to everyone else for entering ...

Friday, October 16, 2009

21 Laurence Olivier

Hamlet played by Laurence Olivier.
Directed by Laurence Olivier.

Olivier’s Hamlet is one of those films which is impossible to approach without a certain level of trepidation, which accounts for why it has taken until now for me to do such an approach (it took this week’s competition to give me the relevant nudge). Like Kean, Kemble, Irving and Gielgud before him and Jacobi, Branagh and (it looks like) Tennant since, his performance is spoken of in hushed tones, synonymous with the role to the point that for a good while, the image people had fixed in their mind of what Hamlet is like, what he is about, was of Olivier. In almost all of the documentaries I’ve seen about Shakespeare and this play in particular, there has been a shot either of the actor looking over a cliff or grasping Yorrik’s skull. The film won Best Picture at the 1948 Academy Awards, with Olivier picking up best actor and nomination as best director (four wins in all with three other nominations).

Few films come with this baggage, let alone a film of Hamlet. Yet, once the credits had rolled and Olivier’s lens swept towards Elsinore’s battlements all of that fell away, and as is usual I found myself thrown back into the walls of the castle and the unfolding text. Unlike Henry V, which underscores its artifice at every stage, Olivier immediately plunges the viewer into a world pitched somewhere between horror and film noir as smoke and shadows fill the frame and old Hamlet descends, totally lacking in humanity, his entrance signalled by the bending of the image as though the apparition only exists because it has found a way to pierce the mind of Horatio and the guards. It’s shocking, scary and totally unlike the impression I'd previous had of the film, of a rather stately, reverential run through of the play. Olivier means to scare the Dickens out of you. And he does. Considering this was the first sound version of the play in the English language, the actor/director does not simply deliver filmed theatre, but a totally cinematic experience.

Eight years out from Citizen Kane and Welles’s influence can already be seen as cinematographer Desmond Dickens treats Elsinore like Xanadu, his use of deep focus transforming the castle into a cavernous, confusing edifice with geography that fractures and bends seemingly depending on Hamlet’s mental state. The camera is forever moving, throughout room, down hallways, up stairwells often in the middle of scenes in an effort to disorientate the viewer, coupled with an editing style that seems totally modern only rarely resting. Late in the film, as Jean Simmons’s post-breakdown Ophelia prowls about the castle, the camera tracks her from behind and we hear the scene in which Claudius spins Polonius’s death to Laertes echo about even before she’s entered the chamber, then continuing as she leaves again towards her death. About the only time Olivier comes unstuck is when he cuts away from performance to show the action which is being reported. So we see Hamlet’s uncharacteristic visit Ophelia as she describes the moment, when his absence from our eyes should be underscoring the mystery of his mental state.

On a textual level one of the big headlines (if you have headlines regarding a sixty year old film) is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't just dead, they're cut altogether, the fishmonger and remembrances scenes shifted next to each other to demonstrate the testing of Hamlet’s madness. All of the politics is removed in fact, save a mention of Fortinbras in the gravedigger scene. This is a domestic Hamlet through and through, a battle of wills between the young prince and his father’s usurper, which does of course mean Polonius really is a “prattling naïve” (and all the more sympathetic for it) but also allows Olivier to glimpse deeply into the marriage of the new king and his queen. From the mousetrap onwards, Eileen Herlie’s Gertrude knows full well what her second husband did and what he’s capable of, the love drained from her eyes, her own sanity drifting until finally, during the duel, she drinks the pearled poisoned wine, knowing the effect it’ll have on her but wanting out of the marriage through any means available. All of that is reflected in Herlie’s sublime performance as in close up we watch her eyes fixed on the goblet and her realisation of the oblivion it will provide.

There’s no doubt that Olivier’s Hamlet is a great performance, with the actor completely aware of when he needs to show the emotion and when he should simply let the other actors and the rest of the film carry on about him. His first appearance, in which he’s clearly been in the scene all along but we simply haven’t noticed him demonstrates the shadowy figure he’s become since his father’s death. He’s also unafraid to take advantage of the comedy in the play, especially as he and Horatio must deal with first the gravedigger then the Osric. My impression is that in this interpretation, Hamlet begins by feigning madness, which tips him over the edge (almost literally in the case of “To Be or Not To Be”) and then he realises what has happened and his sanity returns by the climax. As he says in voice over at the start: "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind” and ironically when he finally does decide on a plan and carries it through it’s too late to save his own life. Some have said he was far too old for the role by then (and indeed the actress playing Hamlet’s mother is a full decade younger than her son), but for me on this occasion it’s the quality of the interpretation which is most important.

Of the rest of the cast, Jean Simmons’s poppet like Ophelia isn’t entirely convincing and the opening does drag terribly during her scene with Terrance Morgan’s stodgy Laertes, their clipped RP accents and mannered performance suggesting at no point that they are siblings. If I was a child watching Hamlet for the first time, my heart would sink if faced by this. Still, Basil Syndey’s Claudius is a brooding villain and looks especially creepy next to Herlie’s youthful Gertrude. The other interest is amongst the supporting cast, which is chock full of character actors who would go on to be stars in their own right: Peter Cushing’s effeminate Osric, Stanley Holloway’s Grave Digger, Patrick Troughton’s Player King, Anthony Quayle’s Marcellus and uncredited extras include Christopher Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Patrick Macnee. In the 1990s, a fantasy convention would kill for this line-up, yet there they all are carrying spears in court or cutlasses during the pirate scene were Olivier allows himself a brief moment of swashbuckling in the flashback.

[Don't forget, the competition to win this on blu-ray along with Henry V courtesy of ITV DVD is still open. You can enter here.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Scene Unseen

The Artifice of The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944)

My first introduction to Shakespeare, at school, was a bit of a jumble. Each week our class would crowd into a tiny television room huddled about a 26” set whilst the teacher showed us sections of Zefrelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Polanski’s Macbeth, various BBC productions and what most captured my imagination, Olivier’s Henry V. Not the whole film, just the opening section in which the director, underscoring the artifice of the prologue, shows us Elizabethan London and a recreation of The Globe with the opening scenes of the play being performed before the braying crowds by actors (we even see the man about to play Henry just before he steps on stage). Despite being of an age that was distracted by Transformers and girls, I was thrilled and captivated, and understood somewhat, for the first time the world in which Shakespeare was working.

Watching years later with more critical eye, I can see that those opening scenes are more obviously models, the transition from miniatures to sets more apparent. Yet their power hasn’t diminished and Olivier’s motive, to bring the audience into the story through varying layers of authenticity even clearer. The Globe falls away to reveal interior sets modelled on medieval paintings, then exterior sets and then in a thrilling burst of reality the Battle of Agincourt with its sweeping tracking shots lenses at the verdant expanses of County Wicklow in Ireland. If years later, Ken Branagh’s version would take that reality a step further by introducing gallons of mud and blood and shouting, Olivier’s interpretation of the battle is the one I’d like to believe in, with its shiny armour and clearer manners.

Created as a morale booster during WWII, Olivier knew that he had to present the text lucidly, accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Part of his artifice also included cutting many of Henry’s darker moments, no hanging of traitors here, no threat to pillage Harfleur, and the dark foreshadowing of the events in Henry VI are cut. But in these circumstance they’re not missed (though I expect that some Shakespeare scholars would disagree) and it’s refreshing to see a version of the King who can act as a symbol for goodness and must have done in those darker times. Too often these days we’re desperate for our heroes to have grey areas in an attempt to make them more “interesting” when sometimes it can be “interesting” that they lack a moral ambiguity. The director won a special Oscar for this achievement. Quite right too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ten interesting facts about the release of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet

Along with the prizes, ITV DVD have sent ten interesting facts about the release of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet ...
1. Hamlet was the first British film to win both the Academy Award for best picture and the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award for best picture

2. Laurence Olivier became the first person ever to direct themselves to a best actor or actress Oscar

3. Hamlet cost $2 million to make; this was a very expensive production in its day

4. Laurence Olivier was 41 when Hamlet was released. Eileen Herlie who played Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, was 28

5. According to a book written in 1948, many actresses refused the role of Hamlet’s mother because of age concerns

6. Desmond Dickenson had a very maneuverable Camera Dolly specially made for this film.

7. Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Jean Simmons are the only surviving cast members of the film

8. This is the first of many films that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would do together. Their later roles included The Curse of Frankenstein where Peter Cushing played Dr. Frankenstein and Lee was the Monster and Dracula, Lee played Dracula and Cushing played Van Helsing on three occasions

9. Shakespearean purist Ethel Barrymore criticized Olivier’s version of Hamlet. Complaining that it wasn’t as faithful as the stage version produced on Broadway in 1922, in which her brother John Barrymore played Hamlet. Ethel Barrymore was later to present Laurence Olivier with the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards and was visibly shaken when she read out Olivier’s name as the winner

10. This was the first talkie film of Hamlet in English
Tomorrow? Henry V.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Competition: Win Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V on Blu-Ray

I've always wanted to say something along the lines of the follow:

To celebrate the release of Laurence Olivier's classic interpretations of Hamlet and Henry V on Blu-Ray, The Hamlet Weblog in association with ITV DVD has two sets of both films to give away!

HAMLET (Cert: U, Run Time: 153 mins, £19.99 RRP)

One of Laurence Olivier’s masterpieces and the capturing of a defining moment of his career, hailed as the greatest performance of Hamlet on stage and screen. The film also stars Jean Simmons as Ophelia (Great Expectations, Guys & Dolls), Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) and Peter Cushing (Dracula).

Having gained widespread popularity in film, Olivier tried his hand at directing and created three highly successful films including HAMLET and HENRY V. Olivier’s definitive version of the Bard’s tragedy won 11 awards including 4 Oscars and was the first British film to pick up the coveted Best Picture honour.

Other actors to make the role their own on stage recently include another Doctor Who; David Tenant and Jude Law whose production has just transferred to Broadway.

HENRY V (Cert: U, Run Time: 138 mins, £19.99 RRP)

Based on one of the most popular historical plays by Shakespeare and made to boost moral of British troops during World War II, HENRY V tells the story of this King of England and the epic Battle of Agincourt.

Devised, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier, this film includes some of most impressive technicolour battle sequences in film, making it a must see. 2009 is the 65th Anniversary of this historically important and glorious film that was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The Blu-ray release also includes some fantastic extras such as the Henry V feature commentary, the trailer and three photo galleries which include black and white, original colour and HD comparison images, actor’s portraits and promotional material.

For a chance of winning this fabulous prize, please answer the following question:

What are Hamlet's first words in the play?

Email your answer with the subject line "Hamlet Competition" to to reach us (me) by midnight GMT on 19th October 2009.

Some terms and conditions:

(1) I'll pull two names out of the metaphorical hat on the 20th and be in touch for details which I'll then send to ITV DVD so that they can send you the prizes.
(2) Competition is only open to UK residents. Sorry.
(3) You can win only these prize. There is no cash alternative.
(4) The judges’ decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into.

Keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of days for related content, including ten facts about Olivier's Hamlet and reviews of the films.

Hamlet and Henry V are released on Blu-ray on 19 October from ITV DVD

Thursday, October 08, 2009

RSC 2010

Next year's plans at the Royal Shakespeare Company have been released. Looks like I'll be taking another trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon:
"Hamlet, directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney – this new production will join a revival of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Paul Hunter, in Stratford for a special week of Young People's Shakespeare performances devoted to young audiences.
No word on casting, though it's an interesting choice for director. McCraney has been a playwright and actor in his own right and was RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company last year. It's a production designed primarily for schools and is set to première in front of the press in London on 26 January. I'm hoping it will end up at the RSC's own venue later in the year.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

'Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country' by Steve Roth.

Someone asked me, not too long ago, how much literary criticism I’d read on the subject of Hamlet, then raised some wonderfully cartoony eyebrows when I told him that I hadn’t. “But” he must have thought “You write that blog…” The problem with much of the criticism that’s been published in the past couple of centuries (at least from what I’ve seen) is that orthodoxy has led to stagnation and too often writers tie themselves in knots quoting from and disproving what has gone before instead of contributing something truly innovative on the subject. Plus it’s usually impenetrable and oppressive to the point of becoming unreadable.

Which makes Steve Roth’s Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country (of which the author was good enough to send me a copy) a rare pleasure because it’s very readable and manages to illuminate at least two aspects of the play that hadn’t occurred, at least to me, to the point that it makes me wonder if theatre has been doing the play a disservice for the past four hundred years. Roth’s persuasive central thesis which for some reason isn’t mentioned on the cover (making the book seem from the outside like just a general survey of the play) is that Hamlet is a teenager, just sixteen years old and that the time scheme of the play spans the six month period from September 1601 and February 1602.

Roth was influenced by L.C. Knight’s 1933 essay, “How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?”, the setting up of a literary mystery based upon a tiny inference then shaking the whole of the text to see the extent to which it might yield an answer. Using a forensically detailed linguistic analysis of the text and it has to be admitted some disapproval of previous critics, Roth presents a range of evidence from quotes to background material, and does so in narrative style as he talks us through the steps he took and the brainwaves he enjoyed in working towards his answer.

The opening chapter regarding Hamlet’s age is available at the book’s promotional website along with a wealth of background evidential material. It seems only proper to let you read the chapter yourself and enjoy the eureka moment (assuming that, like me, you’re not a textual scholar). Whilst it’s true that “sexton” does refer to “officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard” [wiki] sixteen does seem like a better fit – and indeed Shakespeare always substituted words to create double meaning – his intention could have been to imply both.

If you assume that Hamlet is indeed just sixteen as the text of the First Folio suggests, as Roth goes on to demonstrate in the remainder of the book, all kinds of curious elements of the play begin to fall into place. Hamlet’s somewhat petulant behaviour becomes perfectly natural when we realise that we’re watching the story of a teenager on the edge of adulthood, that it’s a good old fashioned coming of age tale, a tragic teen drama with the cast predominantly made up of youngsters playing Ophelia, Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

I love this. I also love that the gravedigger, far from the being the pensioner that turns up in most productions could in fact be “just” thirty years old, and Gertrude too, which as Roth notes means that she’s still of child bearing age and able to produce an heir to the throne to cement Claudius’s rights, simultaneously removing Hamlet from the accession (and explaining why he wasn't given the crown to begin with). It shows that even when a director thinks they’re stripping away the political dimension by cutting Fortinbras, it’s all still there even if it's refocusing on Elsinore’s court rather than the whole of Europe. This is not just a domestic drama.

In the appendixes, Roth does address why Shakespeare seems to wait until so late in the play to address the characters age. I simply assume now that at time of production, those casting the play would simply have been aware of the playwright’s intentions or the audience would have been aware of the artifice through some other means, something which didn’t filter through in the printing of the text and have been lost since. There is evidence that mature actors like Burbage played the role at the time but like the casting of boys for girls it's simply something else that the audience has to suspend their belief for.

Of course that doesn’t mean that in more realistic times when boys are boys and girls are girls that the various productions of the play in which adults walk around saying these lines are wrong. They’re following the orthodox version of the play in which the gravedigger is talking about his length of service and the prince is thirty years old (even if it also means that he’s a mature student). It’s simply part of whatever overall interpretation they’ve constructed and it certainly has more legitimacy than when Romeo & Juliet are portrayed by thirtysomethings even though Shakespeare isn’t as vague about their age.

The chronological discovery is equally fascinating, though it be would be wrong of me here to give all of that away. Suffice to say that Roth once again shows Shakespeare’s words to be a multi-faceted, clever writer, potentially layering into the play biographical commemorations. There’s an interactive version of his findings on the website, and again when you realise that the play takes place over six months, that far from dithering, Hamlet is playing the long-con, which only fails because of his hot-headed accidental manslaughter of Polonius. If this book gains the large audience it deserves, perhaps we’ll sometime see a film, which, after the Ghost scene features the caption “Two Months Later. Tuesday 5th January 1602.”

Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country by Steve Roth is published by Open House Books. £9.95. ISBN: 978-0970470201.

[Update! 8/10/2009 Writer Steve Roth has been in touch with a corrective: "Knight's "How Many Children..." is actually rather a sendup and denunciation of the kind of extrapolation that I engage in to some (?) extent. "Twere to consider to curiously, to consider so..." I do like to think that Knights would have found a decent dose of value in the book, even so..."]

Monday, October 05, 2009

Julia Styles

New York Magazine interviews Julia Stiles, Ophelia in the Michael Almereyda film with Ethan Hawke. I'd always assumed that her colonisation of the Shakespearean teen films was by design. Seems not:
"The actress has gotten flack for protesting too much, for seeming to imply she’s too good for her fans or her early roles. It’s true that her career-making films had loftier aspirations than your average teen romance, but Stiles claims it’s sheer coincidence that three of them were modern adaptations of Shakespeare: 10 Things, based on The Taming of the Shrew; a very arty Hamlet opposite Ethan Hawke; and O, with Mekhi Phifer as a basketball-star Othello. She also downplays the old profile chestnut that has her 11-year-old self sending an adorable letter to the avant-garde Ridge Theater Company, which promptly cast her in productions at La MaMa and the Kitchen. “I was this precocious little kid. It sounds so annoying to me right now.”"

Kitchen Hamlet

Daniel Elihu Kramer's new independent film Kitchen Hamlet sounds rather good. Stripped to the essential story of parental loss and just seventy-six minutes in duration, it's set not in a castle but a house and apparently has the duel play out in the back garden. The director's note points to an autobiographical interpretation:
"... when I was studying directing at Yale, I began directing my own Shakespeare productions. I felt at home in these worlds, at home with Shakespeare’s language and his ways of thinking and seeing. Immediately after Yale, I got married and went to New York. Now I was ready to do what I could not do seven years earlier, when my father died. I directed my first production of Hamlet, seeing in it the story of a son brought to a stop by the loss of his father. For me the question was not whether Hamlet was crazy; it was how he could continue in the face of such grief. I mourned the loss of my father."