Monday, March 07, 2011

'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare

7 March 2011

On Saturday we were at Milton Keynes Theatre to see the National Theatre production of ‘Hamlet’, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Rory Kinnear. When I bought our tickets, the girl at the box office looked nervously at me and said “I have to warn you, it’s in modern dress – is that okay?” I’m not sure what they would have done if I had said no but actually it was very okay. The modern setting (early 1990s I would say, from the size of the computer monitor on Polonius’s desk and the absence of mobile phones) worked well with Elsinore crawling with suited secret agents wearing dark glasses and walkie-talkie headsets. And the sight of soldiers flooding into the palace firing machine guns was thrilling and quite scary. The set and lighting were great – in the opening scene the ghost miraculously disappearing into the shadows was stunning. And Rory Kinnear was a wonderful Hamlet – more cerebral than soldierly. He reminded me of Simon Russell-Beale’s interpretation of the part for the National Theatre some years ago. Rory Kinnear was a frustrated and irritated Hamlet, toying with the fools around him and managing to turn his mood on a sixpence. I also liked Patrick Malahide’s sinister Claudius and David Calder was particularly good as Polonius, reminding us that there is much more to the character than the bumbling fool we often see him as. This was a substantial Hamlet – running at more than three and a half hours – and I did feel the pacy contemporary style, set and music might have better fitted a shorter version of the text. We also had some difficulty hearing a lot of the dialogue. Maybe the National Theatre has better acoustics (and fewer people coughing!) than the Milton Keynes Theatre – and admittedly we were in the cheap seats at the back – but it’s quite difficult to sustain your attention for more three and a half hours when you can’t hear what the actors are saying. This was a shame as the production looked great and started thrillingly. But I did very much enjoy Rory Kinnear’s performance.

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