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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: Burton and Feines *Hamlet*s
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0388.  Monday, 15 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Saturday, 13 May 1995 11:57pm ET
        Subj:   Burton Hamlet
 
(2)     From:   David Levine <
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        Date:   Sunday, 14 May 1995 17:38:26 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0383 Re: Burton *Ha...
 
(3)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Monday, 15 May 95 01:09:30 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0384  Re: Burton *Hamlet*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Saturday, 13 May 1995 11:57pm ET
Subject:        Burton Hamlet
 
I saw the Burton Hamlet in Boston, maybe still a little bit in process, but
essentially the production that stopped traffic on Broadway a couple of weeks
later.  An earlier poster complains about the bad speaking of the secondary
roles; the real problem, it seemed to us then, was the unresolved competition
of acting styles, a roomful of British and American stars never wrought into an
ensemble.  Alfred Drake, better known as a leading man in musical comedy, wore
3-inch elevator shoes and was still shorter than his Gertrude; like a lot of
Claudiuses he succeeded very well in the first half and less so in the second.
Hume Cronyn was surely the most dapper Polonius ever, brisk, efficient,
superficial, a figure out of drawing room comedy.  George Rose stole the show
as the grave-digger; he _owned_ that graveyard, the way a farmer owns his
field, and made everybody else seem rootless.  Burton was brilliant; we saw him
on one of the manic nights (he told an interviewer that he played the role for
laughs or signs according to whether or night the audience laughed at "I know
not seems") and he caught all the dizzying fertility of the Hamlet wit. But he
did seem to be playing more to the audience than to the other characters, and
the final scene was not particularly moving: you expect a rocket to have a
short if brilliant life. But I'll hope you all have a chance to judge for
yourself.
 
Retrospectively,
Dave Evett
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Levine <
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Date:           Sunday, 14 May 1995 17:38:26 -0400
Subject: 6.0383 Re: Burton *Ha...
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0383 Re: Burton *Ha...
 
Several points:  there was a complete recording of the Burton Hamlet on
Columbia, which might still be available fom Columbia Special products.  Check
Round-Up Records in Cambridge, Mass.  It was in their catalogue last year (3
LP's).  I used to have it, and it's still extremely interesting.  Burton's
reading was a deliberately unusual one, and much of it still works, although he
does spend a good deal of effort miling his (considerable) vocal pyrotechnics.
 
There are TWO books on the production.  One was by Richard Sterne, who had a
tiny part.  It's a very complete record of the rehearsal process which was, by
all accounts, not a happy one (Gielgud dismisses it as a failure).  Also,
William Redfield's Letters from an Actor, which was recently remaindered by
Limelight Editions, is about the production and is a very amusing work in its
own right.
 
Hope the above was helpful.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Monday, 15 May 95 01:09:30 EDT
Subject: 6.0384  Re: Burton *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0384  Re: Burton *Hamlet*
 
I saw the Broadway run of Burton's HAMLET in 1963-64; wonderful, energetic,
crackling with taut laughter.  Burton "played" the audience, and I remember
being elated by the exuberant wit that he shared with us, moment by moment.
The rehearsal clothes made sense, since social registers were accurately
translated in ways that Elizabethan dress on modern bodies rarely project.  I
saw the production with my sixteen year old brother, and he cheered and laughed
and choked back in final pain too.
 
This was quite a different experience than the grimly monotonous Rafe Feines
(however spelt) production I saw a week ago.  The recent event's rapidly fading
into grey.  One spark of insight: when Laertes first touches Ophelia, she
winces in aversion.  But the stale flatness of barked language, running for
hours on single notes . . . pfui.  Perhaps someone will explicate for me the
"meaning" or dramatic value of having Gertrude die illuminated by a brilliant
blue-white spotlight while the rest of the stage flumped along in dust-colored
evening?
 
The set had terrific doors and windows and levels.  Wheee!  Les Miz, watch out!
 
The squat actor playing the Ghost (doubling as the gravedigger and other parts)
was such a troll compared to the matinee-idol Claudius that Hamlet's comparison
of the two portraits made at least the people I was with speculate that
Hamlet's eyesight or his judgment were terminally bent.  The casual stupidity
of Hamlet's pawing of Ophelia during the "get thee to a nunnary" passages was
simply one out of many actions unconnected to words and words spoken with no
necessary accompanying human action.  "Oh, you literal minded Yanks.  Can't
understand the IDEA."  Sorry, Jack.  For ideas, I slog through books and
journals and philosophy.  For my money I go to the theatre for action,
emotional verisimilitude, the visceral involvement and atachment of masterful
playing.  Burton and that 1960s cast did it.  These poor goobers from merry-old
didn't even come close.
 
As ever, Steve Verisimilowitz  
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