Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0190. Thursday, 9 March 1995.
(1) From: Ken Colston <
Date: Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 18:04:31 -0500
Subj: Re: SHK 6.0181 Re: Fiennes's *Ham*
(2) From: Christine Mack Gordon <
Date: Wednesday, 8 Mar 95 16:28:29 -0500
Subj: Reviews of Fiennes's *Hamlet*
From: Ken Colston <
Date: Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 18:04:31 -0500
Subject: 6.0181 Re: Fiennes's *Ham*
Comment: Re: SHK 6.0181 Re: Fiennes's *Ham*
I'd be interested in reading some of the reviews on Fiennes's Hamlet, and in
knowing the schedule, if now planned and available, of the American tour of
the production once it closes in New York in July.
From: Christine Mack Gordon <
Date: Wednesday, 8 Mar 95 16:28:29 -0500
Subject: Reviews of Fiennes's *Hamlet*
Fellow Shakspereans: The following review summaries are from an internet
discussion group and were posted by one of its members, so some commentary is
included. All reviews are excerpts, except for that by Benedict Nightingale at
the very end of the post. Enjoy!
DAILY MAIL: well, basically, they say it was a good reading, but not too
terribly daring - i.e. he was 'okay' but not stellar. Rude comment of the day:
'Its run has been extended, so great is the clamour for sales. And no doubt
when it transfers later to Broadway, New Yorkers will buy it for the real
DAILY EXPRESS: Their headline is 'Ralph is destined to achieve greatness', if
that gives you any clue. They say, 'His Hamlet brings all his intensity to the
worlds' greatest ghost story.... Fiennes is never upstaged. His emotional
power is extraordinary.'
EVENING STANDARD: Their critic is well-respected and my favourite, so I was
glad it got good notices from him. He says, 'Fiennes' performance... is
thrillingly original and power-packed. This Prince may be too coldly
self-absorbed to achieve much pathos, but it's a performance with higher
emotional voltage than almost any I can remember... We are vividly reminded
that Hamlet is a real revenge drama, while Fiennes's Prince luminously conveys
the anguish of a man desperate for revenge but fatally ill-equipped to achieve
THE GUARDIAN: They mostly said that it was pretty good but far too fast-paced.
The writer says, 'Fiennes... has many of the right qualities for Hamlet: a
Roman profile, a look of pensive sadness, a rich and resonant voice.... But
although Fiennes is clearly one of nature's Hamlets, the speed of the
production prevents him from reaching the heights.'
THE TIMES: It actually made the editorials, of all places. Mr Editor says,
'Now we have Fiennes's Hamlet - clear and complete, credibly princely,
undeniably tormented and absolutely explosive. To have seen it is to have a
tale to tell. Judging by the sounds of surprise and laughter coming from the
Hackney Empire balcony on opening night, it is a tale that will be told by many
who have never seen the play before and might not have even thought of it ...
It is no little pleasing when one who could be making millions saving Macaulay
Culkin from space invaders remebers his date with the Bard.'
Also - this from the Times' critic Benedict Nightingale (full review posted
below) , who is pretty much the Top critic in London: 'Fiennes achieves liftoff
of a more metaphoric kind in the "O, what a rogue and peasant slave" speech,
filling the lines with genuine rage at a passivity he cannot explain. And the
result of his frustration is a blurring of the line between the Hamlet who
claims to be "mad in craft" and the Hamlet who is really a bit barking. When
he carefully arranges himself on the floor, and directs selfconscious
nonsense-talk at the audience arriving for The Mousetrap, he is doubtless
pretending to be mad... An excessively Oedipal Hamlet is a reductive Hamlet.
But I don't think Fiennes pushes the slant that far. He has not the
vulnerability of Cumming, nor the dark humour of Dillane, but he has an
intensity and an unpredictability of his own. He exercises a genuine grip.'
THE INDEPENDENT: Ouch. They weren't too keen (gotta take the good with the
bad, I suppose). The critic says, 'But in the well-nigh permanent longshot of
proscenium-arched theatre, this actor's eyes look so hooded that you can't get
into his face, let alone his soul. The irony is that some of Fiennes' best
moments in Jonathan Kent's desperately disappointing Victorian period
production come when his visage is covered by a half-mask purloined from the
players' props.... Sensitivity he can project in abundance, along with
patrician, head-wagging disgust; you feel there is such a lack of underlying
moral fibre that it wouldn't be too unfair to dub him Hamlet, Wimp of
Denmark.... It's not a case of Hamlet without the prince; more a case of him
not being in full attendance.'
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: Another not-so-stellar review. 'He is rarely less than
competent, and there are tantalising moments when you imagine that he just
might have a great Hamlet inside him. But such moments are rare.... Fiennes
too often seems weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable. There are long sections
when the audience is in danger of becoming bored with this usually riveting and
inexhaustible character. It isn't all bad news. Fiennes is handsome and has
undeniable stage presence. You genuinely believe that he is a prince. And
there are sudden moments when he seems to reach the core of the character....
Fiennes is excellent too in the scene in which he violently confronts his
mother with her guilt. Here his anguish is palpable, the sexual disgust and
violence terrifying.... But too often Fiennes seems to be kincking tentatively
at the door of the role without gaining admission.
John Peter, SUNDAY TIMES: Jonathan Kent's new production of Hamlet breaks like
a winter storm: harsh, bleak, unromantic, pitiless. If you have ever wondered
what the first performance at the Elizabethan Globe might have been like, this
production at the Hackney Empire could be as near as the modern theatre can
come to it without becoming an exercise in cultural anthropology.... [He goes
on about Annis' fabulous perf as Gertrude]... Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet is that
paradoxical creature, a lonely loner: a man who feels safest behind some sort
of protective wall and yet feels the need for the kind of close companionship
he knows he is hardly fitted for.... He is certainly not a sweet prince. This
is a harsh, unlyrical reading, savage and ruthless, giving no hostages to
affection or romantic admiration: Fiennes reminds you how often Shakespeare
arouses your feelings and awakens your moral sensibilities by engaging you with
characters who are difficult, unwelcoming, sometimes even repellent.... Like
all highly individual Hamlets, this one has its contradictions. Technically,
Fiennes is hugely accomplished. The cascading, tumultuous passion of the
production presents no problems to him: the verse is released at an immense
speed, but with almost complete clarity. One difficulty with that is that you
actually become aware of Fiennes' virtuosity: the technical wizardry draws
attention to itself, and simply listening to this reckless outpouring of the
text comes between you and the character you want to get to know.... Where
Fiennes' performance and Kent's production most probably resemble their
originals [at the Globe] is in their grasp of the play's essential
theatricality as a work of swift, irresistible tragic action in which character
and circumstance combine in destruction. This, too, is where Fiennes'
performance is so eloquent and truthful: it is a portrayal of pain that cannot
be shared.... Fiennes' performance is a shattering portrayal of [the waste of
his soul]. He is, to quote Sartre, a useless passion.
Irving Wardle, THE INDEPENDENT: With Fiennes the play again becomes the
possession of a heroic actor.... I last saw Fiennes five years ago in the RSC's
Troilus and Cressida, where he gave the only performance I have ever seen that
makes sense of Troilus' emotionally impacted speech on Cressida's betrayal.
The same capacity to articulate fast-changing and contradictory feelings
reappears in his Hamlet, magnified to an Olympian scale.... "I'll call thee-
Hamlet": addressing the Ghost, Fiennes charges the name with an accumulation of
awe, grief, love, and expectation. He enters so fully into the moment that the
words acquire their own physical weight; and the beauty of such moments is that
they also intensify the rhythms of the time.
Michael Coveney, THE OBSERVER: For once, the event lives up to the hype and
billing. Fiennes, the Hackney Hamlet, leads an exciting, intelligent and
absorbing production by Jonathan Kent for the Almeida Theatre.... Unlike
Stephen Dillane in Peter Hall's recent West End revival, Ralph Fiennes exudes
the appeal of a true star and the appetite of a thoroughbred. He serves the
cynicism in dashes, not dollops.... On film, Fiennes' lower jaw is fragile to
no purpose. In the theatre, it quivers to technical advantage, as his truly
glorious voice - the most compelling and musical, perhaps, since Ian
Richardson's - hangs on the air and explodes, without mannerism or tricksiness.
John Gross, THE TELEGRAPH: Both Fiennes' performance and the production as a
whole generate excitement; they capture the superb dynamic thrust of the play,
you barely notice the time passing. Fiennes has a fine presence and piercing
looks. He is a romantic Hamlet, if "romantic" means doing justice to both the
sweet and the princely aspects of Hamlet's character - but not if it means
blurring the edge of other, less winning aspects in a lyrical haze.... The one
marked weakness is that you frequently feel that this particular Hamlet's
thoughts aren't probing deeply enough. He is intelligent but not intellectual
- an effect heightened by his tendency to speed up at just those moments ("To
be or not to be" above all) where he ought to slow down.
HEADLINE: More than kin, less than kind;Theatre PUBLICATION DATE: 02 March 1995
BY: Benedict Nightingale
Hamlet, Hackney Empire
Benedict Nightingale see Ralph Fiennes flirt with Oedipus but settle for
controlled madness as Hamlet
Is Ophelia giving an accurate character reference or simply carried away by
love when she calls Hamlet the courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue and
sword, the expectancy and rose of the fair state, the glass of fashion and the
mould of form, with noble reason and unmatched feature? With Alan Cumming and
Stephen Dillane, the most interesting of recent Danes, she had to be besotted
going on deranged. But you have only to see Ralph Fiennes's long, lean figure
appear from behind his black overcoat, and hear that crystalline voice rise
from that chiselled face, to know that, were you in the market for a soldier's
eye or a courtier's tongue, here is your man.
That, of course, is the problem. Jonathan Kent's production (sponsor: AT&T) is
a highly competent affair with several decent performances among the Edwardian
morning coats, among them an economical treble from Terence Rigby as a forlorn
ghost, a bolshie gravedigger, and a Player King who sees himself as a
cigar-puffing, fancy-waistcoated Beerbohm Tree. But it took me time to get a
purchase on Fiennes himself. Was he just going to be a chap who would have
proved most royal had he been put on, but never managed actually to get put on?
There are hints of possibilities to come. Note the unusual emphasis he gives
to the penultimate word when first Claudius, then Gertrude asks him not to go
back to school at Wittenberg: ``I shall in all my best obey you, madam.'' Note,
too, the bilious way he lingers over the sibilants in ``incestuous sheets'' a
bit later. Maybe this Hamlet is less straightforward than he seems. Maybe there
is something unformed within the mould of form, cracked in the glass of
fashion, that will make it emotionally hard for him to obey even Rigby's Ghost,
who reinforces his aggressive querulousness by floating in armour round the sky
directing sci-fi rays at the earthlings in their grey-columned palace.
So it turns out, too. Fiennes achieves liftoff of a more metaphoric kind in
the ``O, what a rogue and peasant slave'' speech, filling the lines with
genuine rage at a passivity he cannot explain. And the result of his
frustration is a blurring of the line between the Hamlet who claims to be ``mad
in craft'' and the Hamlet who really is a bit barking. When he carefully
arranges himself on the floor, and directs selfconscious nonsense-talk at the
audience arriving for The Mousetrap, he is doubtless pretending to be mad. When
he borrows a player's half-mask and gown, and bangs about like a demented
Samurai, you feel that Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz would have called him
something less ambiguous than ``stark, raving sane''.
Fiennes gets more in need of the washbasin and laundry as the play progresses,
and transforms ``To be or not to be'' into the kind of jumble of obsessive
anxiety you might hear from a tramp on a park-bench.
He plays the subsequent encounter with Ophelia in what's also an
unconventional way, not as a rejected suitor who angrily twigs that Polonius is
spying on him, but as an unprovoked outburst of batty love-hate that ends with
him spitting on his filthy shirt and using it to remove her lipstick.
The bedroom scene with Gertrude has him violently shoving Francesca Annis's
face into the mattress and crazily miming rear-end sex with her, by way of
confirming that, yes, somewhere here is an explanation for all the unprincely
ado preceding it.
An excessively Oedipal Hamlet is a reductive Hamlet. But I don't think Fiennes
pushes the slant that far. He has not the vulnerability of Cumming, nor the
dark humour of Dillane, but he has an intensity and an unpredictability of his
own. He exercises a genuine grip, as does James Laurenson's tough, edgy and
finally distraught Claudius. Moreover, on opening night they maintained
concentration under tricky conditions. Something creaked behind the backcloth
and rattled on the ceiling. The ghost of Hamlet's grandfather, come to stick in
his sepulchral oar? We never did discover.