Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2009

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2009

Article excerpt

1. I have no idea what French and Swiss and Italian audiences will have made of the European Theatre Group's version of Hamlet. For that matter, I am not altogether too sure what I made of it myself. Let me say at the outset, mind you, that it added up to a stimulating and inventive production which left me glad I went, which is by no means always the case. And yet - and yet - one of those odd, wilful efforts, full of discrete and heterogeneous elements which ought not to add up but somehow do. Take the obvious example of the fishtank. It dominates the stage, set dead central. You just know from the start that the characters are going to immerse themselves in it at the drop of a bonnet: and don't they just! Only feet at first, then up to waist; until they are lying down in it, exchanging lunacies with Polonius by note or not listening to what father is saying to brother (although the i-pod has been removed by then and just as well), for many seconds at a time till you can feel the audience getting worried - though no doubt the Health & Safety boys will have ensured the presence of secret snorkels and such. This is all very well and adds spice to the occasion; but unfortunately, when the device, as we had all been anticipating, actually came into its own to serve some actual purpose as we got to Ophelia, we were all so punchy with it by then that much of the impact was lost.

2. Take the Ghost too (voiced by Sir Derek Jacobi, quite a coup indeed): a huge skull-plus-rope-vertebrae sort of contraption, pulleyed up by masked devils. Effective, I suppose - but scarcely to convince as anyone's Father In His Habit As He Lived. And so it went on. Some of the cuts (no "vicious mole of nature" for instance) seemed unfortunate. But still, all-in-all, it added up. Some fine playing and verse-speaking helped. King and Chancellor dominated. Patrick Warner's guilty hair-trigger Claudius filled the stage at every appearance. And the creator of all this often perverse but never less than interesting and involving mish-mash, director David Brown, found time also to give a Polonius of dignity and gravitas who made his mockers and naggers (Catriona Cahill's very good Gertrude and Jack Monaghan's twitchy, troubled Prince) seem to degrade themselves rather than him by getting at him. Kate O"Connor was well up to the distresses and lunacies of a young and attractive Ophelia; Katy Bulmer and Helen Parker made a nice pair of feather-brained blondes for Rose'n'Guild (another bright idea which had no right to work but somehow did). …

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