03 October 2010

Hamlet - National Theatre - Saturday 2nd October 2010

Hamlet stands around for a long time worry-budgeting over what he should do and why.  Practically everyone, including Hamlet, is dead by the end.

Hamlet: Rory Kinear
Ghost of Hamlet’s Father: James Laurenson
Claudius, King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle: Patrick Malahide
Gertrude, Queen of Demark and Hamlet’s mother: Clare Higgins
Horatio, friend of Hamlet: Giles Tererra
Polonius, Chief Minister: David Calder
Laertes, his son: Alex Lanipekun
Ophelia, his daughter: Ruth Negga
Fortinbras: Prince of Norway: Jake Fairbrother
Rosencrantz: Ferdinand Kingsley
Guildernstern: Praswanna Puwanarajah

Creative Team:
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting: Jon Clarke
Fight Director: Kate Walters

An open letter to Nicholas Hytner after a watching a preview performance
Dear Nick
Because it was pissing down in stair-rods last night, it was a pleasure to be safely ensconced in Seat 17B last night (we note that Seat 2B is on permanent reserve for the West End Whingers during the run of this show so that they can make witty remarks about it). However, this is the only reason it was a pleasure to be in your chilly, over-airconditioned auditorium for nearly 3 ¾ hours; I would rather go and stand out in the rain than sit through this production of Hamlet again. Thankfully, the seat’s arms had not been taken to fight against a sea of troubles or I would have fallen out of it as I dozed fitfully in the freezing darkness – perhaps you were trying to recreate the frozen wastes of Denmark? Sitting there I began to think that this production was a big, fat, frozen waste of my time, when I could have been at home with a bowl of soup and Strictly Come Dancing.

The question I would like to ask is “Do we really need another black and white, modern dress production of Hamlet? Perhaps you saw the David Tennant version last year and decided to recreate the experience for those of us who couldn’t get a ticket in the hysteria?” Honestly, Nick, the paying public are getting really, really fed up with modern dress productions of period plays – they’re so old hat. Oh, how we long for the occasional farthingale and elegantly pleated ruff. Even a rough old ruff would be a nice change. And if you are going to spend an outrageous fortune on suits, fatigues and cocktail frocks, how about a bit of colour for once? This black-and-white palate may have been avant garde for ENO’s Mikado 20 years or so ago, but its getting very dreary, particularly when your set is heavier on the pale than Procul Harum. In a word, sweetie – its sterile. About as visually interesting as Ed Milliband. Give the audience something to look at as they wait for the “Alas, poor Yorick” speech. Him Indoors got quite agitated in the interval – apparently even opera directors are realising that audiences have had enough and going back to traditional, period productions. And how about ditching the “we all live in a surveillance society” theme with stage-managed TV broadcasts and guards looking ominous in shades and ear-pieces for once? You can hear their agents now: “Dharling how are you? Listen love, the National want you for their Hamlet. No, not actually Hamlet, couldn’t swing that one. They want you to play “Guard”. You’ll get 3 short lines in Act 1 and then the next 3 ½ hours is just standing around in a dark grey suit wearing shades and an ear-piece and looking ominous. You said on your CV that you could do “ominous”, didn’t you? Yes, perhaps a little tedious, love, but you can at least hook the ear-piece up to your iPod and catch up on The Archers. Fabulous, dharling. Can you provide a dark grey suit? Fabulous. Must dash, New York’s holding on the other line. Ciao!”
While we’re on the subject, how about getting some decent actors? Ones who can project. Failing that, ones who can actually speak coherently and don’t mutter or gabble. Projection and coherence would be nice, but we know we can’t have everything. One would have thought that an actress of the standing of Clare Higgins would have made a better go of Gertrude and played it with a little more panache. Ms. Higgins is strident and unfocussed, lacking only a trail of cigarette ash down her front to resemble a drunken fishwife from Eastenders. We had to strain to hear Giles Terera’s Horatio and we really think you should do something about your Ophelia. Yes, we know that you subscribe to the fashionable “colour-blind casting” theory but its embarrassing for all of us when another character refers to her “milky-white bosom” when the lady in question is…erm…. Definitely Not Milky White. Did you run out of money during casting? Is this why Polonius, having been stabbed behind an incredibly tatty curtain, turned up again at the end as the Gravedigger? Or was this a comment about reincarnation? Were you hoping to bring the audiences’ interest back from the dead? Thank goodness you could afford Rory Kinnear, because a lot of the time he was relatively OK.
Can we have a synopsis in the programme at some point? We notice that none of your productions have this any more, and some of us would like to know what is going to be happening during the next 3 ¾ hours so that we can schedule a nap during any potentially boring bits. You know, like the many bits where Hamlet maunders on about dreary, introspective stuff? Can we have the heating on instead of the air-conditioning? Its October and its pissing down outside. Can we have cough sweets given out free like they have at the Royal Opera House, because last night it was like sitting in a TB ward. A woman down in the stalls practically coughed up a lung at one point. She was the one sitting behind the large, blonde woman wearing the bright red jacket in the side section of the front row. The one who was so well lit up all the time. You must have seen her – everyone else in the auditorium did. Wasn’t it a shame that she fell very visibly asleep so early on in the evening? And for chrissakes can you find that idiot whose mobile went off just after Hamlet croaked “The rest is silence” before being drowned out by DiddleDeeeDeeDiddleDeeeDee Dummmm…… and ban him from the National? For Ever?

Your production is a not a hit.  Its a miss.  A palpable miss.

Best wishes,
Yours sincerely

Russell’s Theatre Reviews