Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Hamlet; Ugly Lies the Bone

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Hamlet; Ugly Lies the Bone

Article excerpt

Hamlet was probably written sometime between 1599 and 1602. The Almeida's new version opens with a couple of security guards watching surveillance footage taken in a corridor. Well, of course it does. Nothing says 'late medieval Denmark' like closed-circuit television. Hamlet (Andrew Scott) appears. His black shirt and matching trousers suggest a snooker pro at the Crucible or a steward on a Virgin train. Scott is known as a 'character actor' (code for 'baddie') rather than a leading man. His petulant, squelched-up face and his Ronnie Corbett physique make him perfect casting for Third Crackhead in a squat melodrama but he hasn't a chance of capturing Hamlet's lordly despair, his scathing humour, his meditative isolation, his rebellious grandeur, his personal affability, and so on. Scott gives it everything he's got, which isn't much. Gruff, sarky, cynical, bad-tempered, ever prone to the full-on hissy fit, he stomps around in his waiter's costume bawling out the text as if he were an angry nun or a fed-up driving instructor about to retrain as a cage fighter. He does the soliloquys like a signing exercise for the deaf. Up goes a finger to indicate heaven, down goes a finger to indicate hell. When balancing an antithesis he spreads one arm wide, and then the other. To suggest faltering courage he wiggles his hands next to his ears. For passion he punches his breastbone. For determination he pumps his fists. He seems to be posing for a series of woodcuts entitled 'Rhetorical Attitudes'. Too often his delivery spills into the falsetto range that makes for painful listening.

Blame the director, Robin Icke, who likes his actors to lose control of their voices, even if their seagull honking becomes unintelligible, because he seems to equate high emotion with high volume. Claudius (Angus Wright) is portrayed as a bloodless technocrat. Juliet Stevenson plays Gertrude as a nympho with a bus pass. They're always snogging, like naughty virgins in the playground, which is embarrassing at first, then tedious, finally irrelevant. The company simply can't rise to Shakespeare's level. And the production can barely reach Alan Ayckbourn's. Elsinore is presented as a sort of Travelodge with sliding glass doors, swivel chairs and squishy round-the-corner sofa units.

The textual omissions and misreadings could fill a small book. Some examples. Shakespeare wrote the temptation scene ('now might I do it, pat') as a pair of monologues for Claudius and the prince, but here it's done as a two-handed conversation. …

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