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      11.07.2001 05:44
      Very helpful



      The first thing I'll say is - bloomin' 'eck! Can I REALLY be the only person yet to write a dooyoo op on this? After all...we are talking about arguably the greatest and most well-known play EVER... And yet in a way I guess we take "Hamlet" for granted: we can all quote lines or passages (more or less accurately!), it certainly looms large in our collective cultural consciousness, but, discounting the Mel Gibson and Branagh versions, how many of us have actually seen it performed? Well, the last time I saw it was when I was IN it at school. We used to put on a different Shakespeare play every summer, and the teacher in charge of the annual productions had waited years for an actor of the calibre to play the title role. Again, this is highly contentious, but is there a more taxing role in the theatrical canon? (Especially for a 17-18 year old.) To be at once witty and vulnerable, prevaricating and (ultimately) dynamic, loving and callous, unhinged and coldly manipulative...the opposing forces within the one, highly-charged personality are too many to list. I was lucky to be there the year that just such an actor happened along, and was cast as his father, the ghost. Even now my parents say they didn't recognise me as I materialised over the battlements... But I digress! If you look back over recent theatrical history, there has been a succession of actors cast in the role of "the greatest actor of his generation" or "the new Olivier"...and this has often coincided with them taking on the part of Hamlet. And Simon Russell Beale is the latest to inherit the mantle (or is it a poisoned chalice...?) For a rather unprepossessing, squat little man, he has incredible stage presence. He pulls in all the disparate threads of Hamlet's personality which I mentioned above, placing particular accent upon the humour within the role - both the belly-laugh kind and the more acidic, barbed type with
      which he ridicules Polonius (an excellent Denis Quilley)and the tooth-rottingly obsequious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It would be impossible to attempt to catalogue the myriad little subtleties which sparkle throughout this production, but two moments stick in my mind (I'd be interested to hear from anyone else who has seen, or intends to see, the play, and who picked out others...) Firstly, in Claudius' "repentance" scene in the chapel. The lighting was arranged such that Hamlet's uncle's shadow and that of the giant crucifix hanging above and behind him were superimposed on the stage...with the crucifix inverted. Wow. Secondly, in the scene where Polonius got a dagger up the arras (ouch), he fell to the floor pulling a long silk cloth with him...and when Hamlet pulled him offstage to hude his body, the cloth was stretched out behind him like a vivid trail of blood. Brilliant. At least, I'm assuming it was intentional. Anyone else who sees the play, let me know if it happens again! As you can probably work out, I would strongly advocate that you go and see this production. Do it...you never know, it might just turn out to be one occasion when all the hype about "an indispensible Hamlet" turns out to be proven right after all...


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