December 10, 2008, by Peter Kirwan
The Hamlet Drama
Sigh. Only a few months ago, I barely bothered to review the RSC’s Hamlet as, frankly, I was bored of the blanket coverage of the play even before I’d seen it. And since then, there’s been no let up. There was the drama about the skull, then the drama when the skull was removed, and now there’s the drama surrounding Tennant having to miss the first few London performances and be replaced by an understudy for the capital’s press night. We’ve even had stories bemoaning the amount of stories.
Well, now I’m just sick of it. It’s a fine production (though hardly as epoch-making as some of the raving might suggest – I thought the Tobacco Factory’s was better), but the hype surrounding it has, to my mind, been the death of it. Is it not enough to simply go and see a good cast performing a great play? No, it has to be An Event. And that Event status has, to my mind, been in many respects seriously detrimental, not least in the overweighted focus on one actor (despite the star names and excellent performances in other roles).
But, all credit to Edward Bennett. Despite some of the appalling treatment the production has received in London by theatregoers who have decided not to bother going because of Tennant’s absence, he has gone out and, in all probabability, given the performance of his life. The critical attention he gets is thoroughly deserved – for not only is he taking on Hamlet, but he’s taking on the ludicrous media circus that surrounds this production. And all credit to the RSC for sticking to their principles and letting him take on the role on press night.
Now, if I heard nothing else about this production EVER AGAIN, that would be lovely.
The media. They like stories with a name attached. It that name is The Doctor then that’s all the better. This seems like a real parallel with how (and when) the media choose to portray science stories. I’m looking forward to seeing the production in January. Even sans Tennant, the Bard rocks (as illustrated by his being in an episode of Dr Who!)
It has now been announced that he won’t be back before Christmas and the poor sod has got to have surgery on a slipped disc. I wish him well.
However, if anyone has cancelled simply because Tennant isn’t in it, then good riddance to them. I don’t want to be sat anywhere near people who turn up with no interest in the play just to gawp.
Having seen the production I am in the fortunate position of agreeing with you that it is good but not great. I’m really looking forward to comparing Bennett and Tennant when I see it on Saturday. Hopefully there will be things Bennett does better.
But I can understand the frustration of genuine theatre fans who now won’t be in a position to form their own opinion on the play “as rehearsed” let alone have the luxury of comparing the two actors in the lead role. Being told by people like us that they aren’t missing out on greatness is no real consolation to them.
Cheer up, Pete! When was the last time anything remotely connected to the theatre got press attention like this? If young, non-theatregoers go to see Hamlet just for the immense hype around the Doctor, surely the fact that they might like it enough to see something else is great. The next generation of theatremakers can’t make a living being watched exclusively by theatre students and old people, after all.
Vas – Don’t get me wrong, you’re taking my complaint on to a completely different topic there! I’ve got nothing against Tennant (who is an excellent Hamlet) or against the new audiences his presence has brought into the theatres, which is a wonderful thing. I don’t even necessarily mind the production getting media coverage. The two points which HAVE bugged me are:
1) The sheer volume of media coverage – 15 minutes of the Channel 4 news on that bloody skull, for example – completely disproportional, and distracting from the actual production.
2) The predominance of this production in the dedicated theatre media itself. To take the most extreme example, the Guardian have published about 30 blogs on this one production this year, as well as countless other articles, reviews etc. On the day of Tennant’s injury, there were four separate articles on Guardian Unlimited in the one day. It’s column space that could be going on the countless other important productions out there.
All bloody good fun, I thought.
Bravo to the RSC’s Press dept. for managing to hammer-home such huge amounts of coverage.
That is a fair whinge, Pete. But it is a whinge nonetheless.
Matt – You’re dead right, it’s a whinge. I exercise whinging rights.
It just occurred to me, actually, that if I were the RSC’s press officer, I’d be doing everything in my power to distract all critical attention away from the current Romeo. So I possibly have a bit more sympathy for the Hamlet coverage.
I’ve actually also found myself really wishing I could go and see the production again. I’d love to see Bennett have a crack at the role. If nothing else, the media coverage can only be good for him.
Having gone to Hamlet last night not expecting to see Tennant, it was a pleasant surprise when the producer announced that he was back (no pun intended). He was good and I was pleased to be able to see how well he was performing. I didn’t think it entirely fair that some people decided to give him and him alone a standing ovation when there were others in the cast who had equally strong performances. (I personnally loved the portrayal of Ophelia.)
I really enjoyed the performance and loved the way that the humour was emphasised to make a heavy story quite accessible.
Anyone who’s become a fan of Mariah Gale as a result of her performance as Ophelia will be interested to know that she appears in BBC1’s Diary Of Anne Frank which is on every night next week at 7pm.
Thanks for the heads up!