Thursday, October 23, 2008
On Tuesday night, I saw Tennant doing Hamlet, and it was the most exhilarating of performances - although he couldn't have done it without the others. The cast was terrific, and I do think it is a landmark Hamlet, although what with Toby Stephens and Ben Wishaw around, there are plenty of major contenders for the Hamlet of the Noughties.
I've seen some great Hamlets - Jonathan Pryce in 1982, Branagh in 1992, Andrew Mallett in 1996 on the Great Wall of China, Simon Russell Beale in 2000. But Tennant was something else. It was like watching quicksilver, swift, elusive, allusive, rich, and utterly, totally enthralling.
The role is so absorbing, the word-play so dazzling, the imagery so vivid and the predicament so much the predicament of all of us poor puny humans. Not all of us are Macbeth or Lear, military men at their peak, or aged kings like Lear. But all of us have some moment when we are faced with terrible revelations, decisions, consequences, however it happens, all of us must lose a father, as Claudius so callously suggests in Act 1, and all of us have that moment when we are rendered rogues and peasant slaves for our failures.
Tennant's Hamlet left me wanting to be Horatio, and I have to say I thought Horatio was a gift in the casting, as were Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius and Penny Downie as Gertrude. The closet scene has lingered with me. I sat there tense and horrified, but now, the memory of Gertrude holding her beloved son as though she could by holding him somehow put them both back together again, shattered and distraught as they were, brings tears to my eyes. Patrick Stewart was not a bravado Claudius - he was avuncular but with this terrible, cold concealed cruelty that emerged when he saw Gertrude pick up the cup and ordered her not to drink. Then when she gazes at him, understanding fully what he has planned, he watches frozen, almost visibly convincing himself that he was better off without her. His own death was eerily unhurried.
Time was very clearly delineated throughout, the set was magnificent, but the night was Tennant's, the text was delivered sharp and clear so that meaning was layered and intertwined and everything seemed to me lucid, accessible and true.
Denmark became so real a place of mirrors and smoke, so subtle, the roar of the sea suggested, surrounding this prison with terrors of the deep.
It was one of those nights of theatrical magic, inspirational, rich, unforgettable, the three hours traffic of the stage passing too swiftly. The memory will be green with me for years - I think of moments of the play and the scene unfolds before me in my mind's eye. It's easy with an all-singing-all-dancing-all-sci-fi version of Hamlet like this to forget the hand at the tiller, but Doran's Hamlet is absolutely riveting, and I wish I could see it again and again and again.