BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge Well the sun was shining on the Globe's production of Hamlet on Friday, both metaphorically and literally. After a damp start to the open air season in The Tempest, I feel that The Globe is getting into its stride. To be fair I have not seen all their productions since 1997 but there are special problems in recreating early 17th century settings of plays with modern actors for discriminating modern audiences.
Hamlet is not only my favourite Shakespeare play but probably my favourite play. This production has strong performances from many of the cast. I particularly liked Tim Woodward's Claudius who put me in mind of Richard Burton. Joanna McCallum has great grace as Gertrude. Mark Lockyer makes a welcome return to the London stage as Laertes, a role which uses his forceful character, his immediacy, as well as his fencing prowess. By contrast his sister Ophelia, played by Penny Layden, is a more fragile creature although her giggle when her father is reading his advice to his departing son shows a happy Ophelia. At the beginning of the play, I thought I had stumbled into the grey beard Hamlet. Horatio is a mature man in his mid to late forties, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are mature students. These "grey beards" do fill the Globe with their classically trained voice.
Mark Rylance, who is in his fourth year as Artistic Director of The Globe, is a soft-spoken Hamlet with some of the Welsh sing song remaining in his voice. He is, however, very audible. He is a small, lonely figure, his morose manner and black velvet clothes distancing him from the gaiety and brighter colours of the court. The crowd found much amusement in the "mad" scenes during which Rylance wanders around in a very grubby night shirt and with stockings round his ankles. His advice to the actors on how to play their part is light relief as the Player Queen makes the most of showing her low opinion of writers. Later Hamlet is on a high during the play-within-a-play and his excitement works well. Giles Block's direction places Hamlet away from Ophelia's lap to stand close and stare at Claudius, moving round for a better vantage of his mark.
I can't recall ever seeing Hamlet and the ghost embrace. It makes for an emotional moment but one which minimises the ghost's terrible isolation in purgatory. As the ghost shouts "Swear", Hamlet makes the sword shake in the ground, reminiscent of Star Trek when the characters have to pretend to be swayed around.
There are few surprises from the director but that is probably as it should be in this re-creation of a theatre of the early 1600s where the most important aspect is the clarity of the verse. I did feel that he wasted the opportunity of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are so underplayed as to become a non event. On the other hand, this is better than their becoming pantomime figures of pure fun. They are, after all, meant to be a nasty pair.
The final dance, a jig with skulls on poles, is a crowd pleaser and a celebration of the performance. I liked the dance but not the sequence where a figure in a modern Hallowe'en skeleton outfit dances out from under the skirts of the figure of Death.
The body of volunteers who contribute to the costumes excel themselves each year. An early scene of the court recreates round a table, the hatted men of that famous engraving of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators of 1605. The court are clad in sumptuous velvets in russet and gold and red, exact copies of Stuart dress, but Fortinbras, heavily accented, and his army appear in fresh green symbolising the new order. The ghost appears in full black and gold armour.
The audience of groundlings who were prepared to stand for three and half hours (this is a slightly cut version) with nothing to lean on were rewarded with a good production with much to enjoy. I do hope that they bought a souvenir "Groundling" T shirt to commemorate their achievement.
NOTE: If you have a seat, do remember to hire a cushion for pound on the way in. If you cannot get a ticket for The Globe there is a view of the theatre from the balcony of the new Tate Modern Gallery which stays open to 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. A new footbridge over the Thames connects St Pauls with Bankside.
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.