Hamlet

By Walton, Nick | Shakespeare Bulletin, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Hamlet


Walton, Nick, Shakespeare Bulletin


Hamlet Presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. July 8-October 16, 2004. Directed by Michael Boyd. Designed by Tom Piper. Lighting by Vince Herbert. Music by John Woolf. Sound by Andrea J Cox. Movement by Liz Ranken. Fights by Terry King. Costumes by Emma Williams. With Greg Hicks (Ghost of Hamlet, Player King, Gravedigger), Clive Wood (Claudius), Sian Thomas (Gertrude), Toby Stephens (Hamlet), Richard Cordery (Polonius), Gideon Turner (Laertes), Meg Fraser (Ophelia), Jessica Tomchank (Lady), Forbes Masson (Horatio), John Mackay (Rosencrantz), John Killoran (Guildenstern), Neil Madden (Francisco), Ian Drysdale (Barnardo), Sion Tudor Owen (Marcellus), Edward Clarke (Voltimand), Jonathan Forbes (Fortinbras), Anita Booth (Player Queen), and others.

In the RSC's current season of Tragedies Michael Boyd directed Hamlet, marking his first production as the company's Artistic Director. Boyd promised to present Hamlet as an "exciting adventure story" of "A young man on the edge--about to be revenged--about to be damned." Two outstanding features that this production will be remembered for are Toby Stephens's portrayal of Hamlet as a man who cannot act because of his overwhelming impassioned grief, and Greg Hicks's ever-haunting Ghost.

Toby Stephens's Hamlet began the play already with his heart on his sleeve, unable to deliver his opening lines to Claudius without being moved to tears. Stephens's Hamlet did little to mask his grief and distress, and it seemed that it was his disabling woe, rather than his fragile constitution or philosophical pondering that prevented him from revenging his father's murder. This Hamlet often acted on impulse, and was ruled not by his head, but by his heart. At the moment of Gonzago's murder during the performance of "The Mousetrap" Hamlet snatched the crown from the players and laughing placed it upon his own head. Whilst this created a poignant momentary image of the true heir to the crown, within the world of the play his interference appeared so impetuous and tactless that it failed to present any real sense of threat or menace. The frustrated players retrieved the crown, dismissing Hamlet's behavior as foolish and childish. As Claudius rose to his feet at the climax of the players' performance, Hamlet drew his dagger and held it high above his head as if about to strike. He did not move toward Claudius, and his impotent delay removed any sense of danger from this striking pose. Claudius and his soldiers passed by Hamlet to exit, dismissing him at once as a venomless viper, an attention-seeking child, and a madman.

Of all Boyd's choices, his decision to cast Greg Hicks in the roles of Ghost, Player-King, and first Gravedigger was undoubtedly the most profound and affecting. Hicks's recurring ghostly presence throughout the production helped communicate old King Hamlet's urgent desire for his murder to be revenged, to bring an end to his purgatorial sentence. The three characters were connected through make-up, subtle repetition of pose and gesture, and placement on stage. …

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