Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0210. Tuesday, 14 March 1995.
From: Christine Mack Gordon <
Date: Monday, 13 Mar 95 10:08:25 -0500
Subject: Variety review of Fiennes's Hamlet
This review by Matt Wolf (an American in London), is probably the best
predictor of how the production will be received in NY.
March 10, 1995 Friday
HEADLINE: Hamlet (Hackney Empire, London; 900 seats; T17.50 ($ 28) top) An
Almeida Theater Company and AT&T presentation, in association with Dodger
Prods., of the play in five acts (one intermission) by Shakespeare. Directed by
Jonathan Kent; sets, Peter J. Davison; costumes, James Acheson; lighting, Mark
Henderson; fights, William Hobbs; sound, John A. Leonard; music, Jonathan Dove.
Opened, reviewed Feb. 28, 1995. Running time: 3 hrs., 10 min.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes (Hamlet), Tara FitzGerald (Ophelia), Damian Lewis
(Laertes), James Laurenson (Claudius), Peter Eyre (Polonius), Francesca Annis
(Gertrude), Paterson Joseph (Horatio), Terence Rigby (Ghost/Player
King/Gravedigger), Andrew Scarborough, James Sinclair Wallace, Nicholas Rowe,
Nicholas Palliser, Terence McGinity, David Melville, Colin Mace, James Langton,
Gordon Langford-Rowe, Peter Helmer, Caroline Harris, Gilly Gilchrist, Richard
Ashcroft, Lara Bobroff, Peter Carr.
Broadway should prepare for an adrenalin rush with Jonathan Kent's new
"Hamlet," which brings Ralph Fiennes back to the stage as the moodiest of
matinee idols, and finds in Francesca Annis the best (and most beautiful)
Gertrude in my experience. Is this a great "Hamlet"? Not yet. It's too
impetuous and uninflected to pack much of an interpretive wallop, but for sheer
narrative energy, it's in a class by itself. Those wanting an exercise in dry
elocution are advised to look elsewhere.
BYLINE: Matt Wolf
BODY: Kent's staging has kept at least one eye on New York, where the
director had a surprise hit last season with the Diana Rigg "Medea."
And he's right, from the point of view of audiences on Broadway, where the
production transfers in April, to remind us that the English-speaking theater's
most exalted and examined play first off tells a story. From an initial
moroseness at Elsinore that quickly gives way to rage, Fiennes' Hamlet is
fueled by fury and a settling of scores.
Those who recall Fiennes' theater work before "Schindler's List" made him a
star will find the actor transformed.
While he continues to speak verse fluently and well, even in the chasm-like
acoustics of the Hackney Empire, he has loosened up on stage. The Gielgudian
"voice beautiful" feel of his early Royal Shakespeare Company work has been
discarded in favor of a contemporary, almost throwaway style that nonetheless
honors the language.
His is a Hamlet without set pieces, in a "Hamlet" that -- for good or ill --
makes no grand statement.
Accordingly, "to be or not to be" emerges without warning as a
conversational asterisk, uttered as an aside while Ophelia (Tara FitzGerald)
stands nearby, unaware, in a doorway. When not grabbing at his unkempt garb,
Fiennes claws about the stage in a state of chic dishevelment.
If this is a Hamlet one would want to bring home to mother for a bath and a
proper meal, Annis' mother is a Gertrude for all time: a sensuous and youthful
woman -- gorgeously costumed by James Acheson -- who seems to recognize
instantly her error in pairing up with Claudius (James Laurenson).
The closet scene bristles with sexual tension, so it's a shock to see Annis
freshly composed for the final duel, in which Mark Henderson's elegant lighting
spotlights her dead body in a pale, ghostly wash.
Peter J. Davison's high-walled geometric design glimpses numerous corridors
of intrigue and guilt.
Its forbidding Edwardian chill is made to order for Peter Eyre's sonorous
Polonius, and inimical to the simple affections of FitzGerald's Ophelia, turned
lethally inward in response to Hamlet's disgust. FitzGerald's mad scene is far
less stagy than usual.
The only serious casting debits: Damian Lewis' blank Laertes and a
Fortinbras and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of varying degrees of silliness.
They all look as if they're biding their time waiting for Hamlet to take charge
in a production that never wastes time if it can hurtle bullishly on.