Friday, May 31, 2013

A Shakespearean tragedy

Hamlet Earlier this week I visited the refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford for the first time and experienced a Shakespearean tragedy. I'm not referring to the plot of Hamlet, the best play ever written in the English language, I'm talking about this particular production, and also about the theatre itself.

Visiting the RST has been the highlight of my artistic experience for many decades, and although I went to a couple of performances in The Shed in Stratford while the RST was out of commission for nearly a decade, I was very keen to get back to HQ and figure out exactly what had taken them so long. Immediately on walking into the foyer the answer was obvious - all those millions of pounds had been spent on building the gift shop. The auditorium itself is disappointing, lacking the presence of its former self where I saw so many great productions. Although the atmosphere is OK, the best description of the new auditorium is probably the estate agent term "bijou". At nearly 30 quid each, the "cheap" seats we sat in had nearly half of the stage obscured by an overly intrusive safety barrier. While clearly designed to prevent me plummeting to a painful death from the Upper Circle, an hour in and I was regretting its presence - not only because of my stiff neck from craning over and under it, but because by that stage of the evening, plummeting seemed to be about my best option, assuming I could take enough members of the cast with me betwixt seat and stage. Fortunately rising suicidal thoughts were diverted by the Interval, when drowning of sorrows and numbing of critical faculties with alcohol was much needed.

I suspect Jonathan Slinger is a talented actor, but he is miscast and misdirected in this role. After hours staring down from the gods at the Prince of Denmark's bald spot I was rueing the fact that he hadn't got the Prince Charlie thing going on. I'm not going to comment further on this botched production, as Charles Spencer has accurately summed it up pretty well in his review:
"I wonder what Greg Doran, the company’s new artistic director, makes of this botched shot after his own superb production a few years ago, starring David Tennant."
Tennant took the role of Hamlet by the balls and walked the line between madness and sanity. Slinger doesn't know where he is going - but blame the director for that, not Slinger, who I believe is much better than the effort he is allowed to give here.

I would like to end by focusing on the few good performances in this disappointing effort. Ophelia is a bloody awful part to play, probably the worst characterisation Shakespeare ever wrote, but Pippa Nixon gives it a bloody good try in so far as she is able to in this flawed effort. Robin Soans as Polonius is excellent, although I would personally prefer to see this part played with a little more gravitas and a bit less whimsy. But the clear star of this show is David Fielder as the First Gravedigger - nails it, old school.

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