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TOPIC: Hamlet 1603

Hamlet 1603 3 years 4 months ago #5234

I think the review of this Bad Quarto at the White Bear Theatre by Christopher Adams is very perceptive in many respects but rather puzzlingly misses the point of two key scenes. The Nunnery scene is not about Hamlet showing how much he dislikes Ofelia but how much he wants to protect her from what is rotten in this state of Denmark. He literally wants her to get out of this world and find refuge in a nunnery. His continual repetition of the order shows that he is aware that someone, Claudius, is eavesdropping and therefore he has to be careful what he says.

The second, and in some respects, more important misreading by Adams is of the Gravediggers scene. In Imogen Bond's production they are clowns complete with red noses. They're not good clowns but the kind of clown any of us might be taken for and this production is bedded on the idea that Hamlet who spends so much time talking directly to us is just like you and me, a man with problems rather than a tragic hero. Even by the end of the play as he kills Claudius it is difficult to call him a hero. But to get back to the clowns. It is a bold and theatrically thrilling idea to have the actor who has just died as Ofelia (and played the mad scenes superbly, incidentally) reappear as the second Gravedigger to bury her former self. And when she pulls off her hat and stares at Ofelia's grieving brother we hold our breath. Will he recognise his dead sister? After all Shakespeare has earlier brought Hamlet face to face with his dead father and he recognised him kick-starting the events of the play. So will Leartes see his sister? The fact that he doesn't shows how different he is to Hamlet. But just for a moment....
Making the grave out of a few battered suitcases is also theatrically loaded. Previously they've been the property of the Players. Maybe everyone's a player, maybe anybody's life can be packed up into a case. And when you open the case and find nothing but old bones...
The glory of this production is that it makes such potent theatre out of such slender means.
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Re: Hamlet 1603 3 years 4 months ago #5235

First, let me state again that I thought this was a solid, refreshing production (and, as you say, well done to Rebecca Pownall for her portrayal of Ofelia; I loved the 'tapping on the microphone' bit during her mad scene).

I completely agree that doubling Ofelia/second gravedigger is a bold choice--I have never seen it done, and it certainly deserves comment. However, in this production I found the doubling to be a strained choice since it seemed at odds with the otherwise straightforward, non-meta-theatrical nature of the presentation (or, any more so than Hamlet itself is metatheatrical). The doubling is an extreme act of meta-theatricality, in which we watch one character/actor bury her former character, but there were no other pointed instances of such strong commentary on the very nature of playing Hamlet itself to support the decision.
And when she pulls off her hat and stares at Ofelia's grieving brother we hold our breath. Will he recognise his dead sister? After all Shakespeare has earlier brought Hamlet face to face with his dead father and he recognised him kick-starting the events of the play.

This is, for me, where the problem lies. In the context of the play, Hamlet sees his dead father, played (in this production) by an actor (some productions choose not to show a 'real' ghost at all). Later, we see the same actor playing several other parts, but we are -not- expected (or at least it was not played so) to read this as a meta-theatrical commentary; instead, we conventionally note that the play requires some parts to be doubled because of cast numbers. Indeed, the actor who played the first gravedigger also played Hamlet's father, and yet we were not expected to ask: "Will Hamlet recognize his dead father?" (The same actor also played one of the players and, again, there was no implication that any deeper meaning was implied -- it was simply a matter of theatrical necessity.) The audience accepts that the two characters bear no necessary relationship to one another. However, the 'rules' governing 'what's a doubling for theatrical purposes' and 'what's a doubling for meta-theatrical purposes' were different for each character/actor in the same scene. And, indeed, it was only in this one scene that we were expected to read the actor in relation to the character (s)he plays. The production operates on the level of 'characters' until, for this one scene, it operates on the level of 'actor-character'.

In sum, I thought the doubling of Ofelia/gravedigger is in itself a very bold and creative move (and I would love to see a production where it worked), but the rest of the production needs to be able to bear the weight of that decision. This could possibly work, for instance, if Hamlet were set in a theatre, where it is implied/shown that all the characters are actors; or have some kind of framing device to let us know that we are watching a play-within-a-play already; or, in the play-within-the-play, the actors playing Gertred/King could in fact play the Player Queen/Player King, or be directed by the players to do so.

Again, in many instances, a bold, refreshing production.
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