Saturday, June 19, 2010

29 Anton Lesser

Hamlet played by Anton Lesser.
Directed by Neville Jason.

Since brevity is supposed to be the soul of wit, I will be brief. As well has having the budget classical music market sealed up, Naxos also have a list of drama audiobooks that covers most of the canon and that includes two different Hamlets – the early Gielgud (coming soon) and this 1997 recording with Anton Lesser in the title role. Lesser first professionally played the role on stage under Jonathan Miller in 1982 at the age of thirty (having previously attempted it at school at sixteen) for the Donmare Warehouse. The full story of that production is in Mary Zenet Maher’s Modern Hamlets and their soliloquies which does a good job of mythologizing their efforts.

With that in mind I was rather looking forward to this recording and indeed it starts out well enough with some unidentified classical music on the soundtrack which works as a dramatic score. But it doesn’t take too long to realise that director Neville Jason isn’t interested in providing a too radical interpretation of the text and within a few scenes a strange lethargy breaks in as the drama falls out of joint and I was left enjoying this and that small bit of business but unable to really become fully engrossed. By the time of The Mousetrap, I was actively disappointed.

But I’m willing to admit it doesn’t sound like it’s all the cast’s fault. Rather the cast all seem to be appearing in different versions of the play, as though in turning up for the recording, they’re doing the version of the character they may previously have offered on stage. Lesser certainly has that deliberately unlikeable adolescence and I certainly agree with the reviewer (quoted in Maker’s books) who said that it was the first time that they’d wondered by Claudius doesn’t simply off the boy too since we know he has the wherewithal. The answer is of course that then we’d only have half a play.

But generally, if indeed this was directed in the traditional sense, Jason – perhaps guided by Naxos – was most interested in producing a conventional reading of the full text, with a musty Polonius, panto Claudius and indeterminate Gertrude. Only Emma Fielding seems to break with tradition with an Ophelia who’s a very modern woman of the kind that appear in BBC nine o’clock dramas, quick witted and slightly naughty. When she agrees to her father’s request to stay away from Hamlet, she gives the impression that she’s only telling him what he wants hear, fully intending to raid the prince’s bedchamber again that night. Sadly, obviously, events conspire against her.

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