April 27, 2006, by Peter Kirwan
APRIL 27TH 2006 (backdated)
There are advantages to going on conferences sometimes. While on a two-day conference on Thomas Kyd’s ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ (a very good play by the way, hoping someone mounts a production of it in the near future), we got the offer of seeing an open dress rehearsal of the Baxter Theatre Centre’s production of ‘Hamlet’ in The Swan.
I’m seeing the play proper in four days anyway, so I’ll save the ‘review’ part of things until then. For now, though, I’ll save a bit of time by giving some background.
This is one of the first international productions of the Festival. It’s directed by Janet Suzman, who’s an RSC alumnus, but it’s by the Baxter Theatre Centre of South Africa. The cast features a suitably diverse cross-section of South African society, with a colour-blind approach to casting and a wide range of accents and dialects, yet almost all spoken in English.
One of the members of the cast, the actor playing Guildernstern, was sadly killed not long before the production came to England, and understandably it was a difficult decision to decide whether to replace him or to cancel their engagements. They chose the latter, obviously, but knowing that story adds a pretty sobering feel to the whole production. It doesn’t make the production any better or worse, but it does contextualise the play somewhat in terms of the South African mob environment it presents- but more on that later.
On a seperate note, I quite enjoyed being there at an open dress rehearsal. The press were all in, and I have to admit the noise of cameras constantly clicking for the first hour was very irritating. Getting the best seats in the house was great, though!
Plays seem to come in short bursts- it’s ‘Othello’ in two days, then the proper performance of ‘Hamlet’ two days after that. It’s nice knowing I’ll be seeing it again though, hopefully it’ll wear well over two viewings!