This evening we went to the National Theatre to see the new production of 'Hamlet' with Rory Kinnear in the title role. I saw the production of 'Hamlet' with Jude Law last year and this was far better. Mind you, I'm not sure if it was better than the version I saw in 1978 with Derek Jacobi as the troubled prince (yes, me and the Dane go that far back).
The set was bare, the walls of a Baroque palace which were moved around to create different spaces for different scenes, sparse use of furniture and props but lots of lighting, not always to best effect. A glimpse at the set and you know you're no going to see a happy-go-lucky version of the play (now there's an idea Mr Producer) but something grey and stark. And that's what we get. Except it's in modern dress for some reason that never became obvious to me. So we had smart suits, hoodies, trackie bottoms and earphones for eavesdropping. Um, why?
While I'm on a roll, can I also mention the strange direction of the 'mad' scenes, particularly Hamlet standing on his bed with his duvet pulled over his head and Ophelia in a bra pulling a shopping trolley around. Um, this is meant to be a palace y'know, so how come she gets a stolen shopping trolley past the guards and up all those steps we all know exist in every palace or castle? Another irritant were the night scenes in the first act with virtually no lights on the stage so I couldn't see what was happening very well and the actors who seemed to forget their stage school training on enunciation and projecting - I had difficulty hearing some of the actors and I was in the stalls. What else? O yes, the odd police state visuals of men in suits with guns wandering round every so often being generically menacing - reminded me of seeing 'Assassins' earlier in the summer at that little theatre under the arches somewhere not exotic.
Okay, I got that out of my system all in one rush of annoyances, so why did I think it was a good production? Rory Kinnear, that's why. I saw Rory in 'Burnt By The Sun' last year and, unusually for me, remembered him from it, so I must've seen something in his performance that stuck in my mind. Rory is the son of Roy Kinnear (yes, *that* Roy Kinnear for readers of a certain age).
Something you can't help but notice in any reading of 'Hamlet' is how many of the phrases have made their way into popular culture and Rory has a great way of delivering them. I particularly liked his 'Alas poor Yorrick, I knew him Horatio' which was almost a whispered aside that had us (well, me) riveted to what he was saying. He breathed new life into some of the lines, made them fresh and new again and, in doing that, conjures up all sorts of images with the words. That is a powerful talent and skill and it influences anyone with an ear to listen. Anyone who can do that to Shakespeare's age-old words needs to be listened to and I'd be happy to hear Rory take on more Shakespeare.
It's not a one-man show, though, and I'd also give credit to Clare Higgins as Gertrude (Hamlet's mam) who played the role with a love of booze from champagne at the start to the poisoned tipple at the end, and Giles Terera as Horatio who seemed to grow into the part as the play progressed. I liked his 'Flights of angels' speech at the end. Chris (the fount of all knowledge) reminded me that I'd seen Giles in the role of Gary Coleman in 'Avenue Q' a few years ago (yay for my mates, the Bad Idea Bears!) so here's where he shows he's a 'serious' actor. I thought both actors were very good.
For once I caught a show at the start of its run rather than at the end, so I'd encourage everyone to go to see this production. Apparently it's also going on tour after the National Theatre season closes, so book tickets early.