Friday, 16 October 2015

Hamlet Live - Big screen, up close and personal

I didn't book my ticket beforehand. Up until the last minute yesterday, I wasn't even sure I was going to go. But I did and I'm glad that I did.

I was sitting in seat E10, and it was pretty close - too close really, so the actors were way above me and often I felt like I was looking up their noses! But BOY was it powerful! The emotion was FULL ON.

Mind you, I hankered for the odd wide shot, and a view that would place the stage within the theatre and the audience. I almost had the strange feeling that they were performing in an empty auditorium (that was very different from the Coriolanus NTLive, which was in such a small 'in the round' studio, that you really had the intimate sense of being within the live audience. In this case, they stayed SO close in, it slightly lost its theatre essence (which it has to have, cos the performances are NOT filmic, they are stage-big)
It worked, though - the intensity was extraordinary (can't believe Benedict didn't wreck his voice, he pushed it so much in the graveside scene, in the conflict with Laertes).

Didn't much like Horatio (played as a geek). But apart from that, all the key players were good. Ophelia was superb, Gertrude and Claudius were very good. Polonius was good, the ghost/gravedigger - good.

Liked the fully unapologetic presentation of the ghost. Gruesome sores on his chest - yucky, and worked well as a shocking reveal.

But is it a flaw in the play itself - the chunk of the play straight after the ghost's revelation where Hamlet is only glimpsed, not really central to the action, and we just hear (and see glimpses) of his odd behaviour? I found that section a bit frustrating and odd (he's just heard that his father was murdered - does he actually fall apart, or is he acting mad - he's SO not taking revenge straight away... which is obviously the point, but...).

The production's gimmicks - particularly the giant fort - were a bit tiresome. Didn't work for me AT ALL. But the soliloquys were perfect - both in their staging (with the slow-mo freezing of time thing, which I really liked), and in Benedict's exquisitely accessible and emotionally convincing interpretation.

One thing I know about Hamlet is its fame for length. So any production has to make cuts - it's inevitable. And each production will choose a slightly different cut to suit the particular interpretation. I liked how much interweaving of the politics was in this one. I was surprised by how much there was with the players - both the Hecuba bit, and the play before the King bit (with Hamlet acting the poisoner - is that usual??) Did NOT like the coat with KING on the back that Hamlet ends up wearing for such a long time from that moment onwards.

I can't remember when I last saw a live production of Hamlet - I watched some bits of David Tennant's version online, but not the whole thing. Don't think I ever watched the Branagh one. Certainly read and studied it long ago in student days ofcourse.

Seeing/hearing it this time, after such a long gap, it was a constant stream of familiar bits, quotations that have entered the culture, mixed with surprising things I'd forgotten or never noticed (really? Hamlet is fortuitously freed by a pirate attack??)

Why did Ophelia have a camera? She seemed a bit flaky from the start; perhaps the fragility of mind and emotion  needed to be hinted at, so the descent into total madness doesn't seem too sudden or far-fetched. Her final scene and exit were exquisitely sad. And I liked the sense of the three bereaved children and their differing reactions to the death of their father (Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes - the last being the 'traditional' avenger, so easily manipulated by Claudius)

In the play, Hamlet - while failing to avenge his father by immediately killing his uncle - directly (albeit accidentally - in that he was hoping to kill someone else) kills Polonius, and he deliberately, and with cold deliberateness, sends Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to their deaths. At the end, he unintentionally kills Laertes, then deliberately (finally!) kills Claudius, knowing he's about to die himself.

I'd be interested to see Hamlet at the Globe (they always seem to emphasis any humour, and even add more than is strictly justified - seems to be part of that Groundling rapport and the close link with the audience.

The depth of the pain, the horrible darkness of mental fragility and depression - that really struck me tonight. When Hamlet can only bear to stay alive because he's scared of the life thereafter (there's the rub) - I know what that's like (although for me, it was knowing the pain I would inflict on loved ones by 'self-slaughter', not any idea of heaven/hell/continued existence of a 'soul'!)

Now I can't really grump about the existence of the ghost - portrayed as a real supernatural presence - or the certainty expressed by Hamlet, Claudius etc regarding God, the soul and  judgement beyond for sins in this world. That's just part of the deal (and not even anachronistic, given the huge numbers of believers nowadays!)

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