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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0399.  Thursday, 18 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Don Foster <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 May 1995 11:34:40 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0388  Re: Fiennes *Hamlet*
 
(2)     From:   Stacy Keach <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 May 1995 12:51:53 -0400
        Subj:   Playing the Dane
 
(3)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 17 May 1995 17:15:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Claudius' Attempt at Prayer
 
(4)     From:   Kate Wilson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 May 1995 15:26:55 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0396 Re: More *Hamlet*s
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Foster <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 May 1995 11:34:40 +0100
Subject: 6.0388  Re: Fiennes *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0388  Re: Fiennes *Hamlet*
 
Steve and Ron are both right about Jonathan Kent's *Hamlet*, starring Ralph
Fiennes (prn. RAFE FINES):  it is indeed a production of "barked language,
running for hours on single notes" (Steve) and yet, I think, still "well worth
seeing" (Ron). Most of the characters are angry and manic.  Even Polonius and
Guildenstern find an opportunity get mad, and do (at Hamlet). Hamlet, for his
part, stays madly manic even after the graveyard scene. There is a lot of
shouting. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and these characters
don't mind letting on that they are pretty pissed off about it.
 
One character who doesn't shout much, because he *can't*, is Terence Rigby as
the Ghost of King Hamlet: this Ghost's voice is hoarse for having smoked far
too many Winstons without filter-tips (or perhaps it was purgatorial smoke that
did him in).  Rigby's King Hamlet is an over-plump, badly shaven, blear-eyed
chap who looks to have strayed into Denmark from the corner pub.  The casting
here must have been done tongue-in-cheek; but then again, Hamlet's
Hyperion-to-a-satyr comparisons between Dad H. and Uncle C. are all in his
head, and I found Rigby's frumpy Ghost-King pathetically endearing. If this
ghost were to show up on my battlements, I'd gladly buy him a beer any day or
night. High grandeur is similarly undercut by Rigby as the cigar-smoking first
player, who would look well in a bookie joint, if not in the Danish court.  In
his third role, as Gravedigger, Rigby looks right at home.
 
I didn't much care for Damien Lewis's Laertes. This Laertes is slightly hot for
his sister until he sees her mad, at which point he slides down a wall into a
silly heap of jelly and loses his own wits. In the latter scenes, Lewis is a
picture of open-mouthed stupidity as he wanders about in his unbuttoned
high-school band uniform (and, yes, with his mouth hanging open).  But Lewis
has at least got a very nice Don-King-like coiffure of flaming red hair which
points to Laertes' Hotspur-like pretensions even while turning into a Bozo.
 
Any Ophelia following Helena Bonham-Carter is bound to be disappointing, but
for an actress with a hard act to follow, Tara Fitzgerald was pretty stunning,
especially in her mad scenes. Also effective, in this production, was the
underscoring of the pain inflicted upon Ophelia (and, to a lesser degree, on
Gertrude) as a woman whose interiority doesn't count for much in Denmark.
After the "Nunnery" scene, Ophelia staggers off in pain while Polonius and
Claudius form an excited huddle, wholly oblivious to Ophelia's devastation.
 
Fiennes is a stylish Hamlet, but he's taken some flak for rattling off the
soliloquys without attempting to convey them as meaningful utterances. His
principal thought in reciting the soliloquys seems to be, "Listen quick, guys,
and heads up, 'cuz here comes the plum." Fiennes's Hamlet seems thus to feel a
double burden: both Hamlet's imperative to play the revenger in a vulgar play
not of his own design, and the actor's task of playing HAMLET:  He says the
lines as if he HAS to say them (which may be a kind of theoretical cleverness,
provided that one doesn't mind getting trashed or schooled by a few reviewers).
The next step for a daring director will be to produce *Hamlet* without the
soliloquys altogether. Which might not be a bad idea.
 
The production is peppered with (sometimes wacky) special effects. Audible
blasts of light, doubly redoubled, herald the advent of a ghost who then comes
on, somewhat anticlimactically, like a boozy cab-driver. The poison vial that
Lucianus empties into the Player King's ear glows bright green (on an otherwise
dimly lit stage); it may in fact be a Star Wars mini-lightsaver that the
production crew picked up at Toys-R-Us.  Most weirdly, Gertrude (as Steve
Urkowitz has noted) ends the play as a rigid white mannikin bathed in light,
causing everyone in the audience to ask themselves the same question: "Huh?"
 
But I'm being unkind. A colleague and I took 40 Vassar undergrads to the show.
The students' response was unanimously enthusiastic, which points to the
production's effectiveness as a piece of stagecraft.  I will even confess that
I,too, enjoyed every minute of the show.  Jonathan Kent's *Hamlet* may be short
on ideas, but I wouldn't mind seeing it again, just for the thrill of it.
 
--Don Foster
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stacy Keach <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 May 1995 12:51:53 -0400
Subject:        Playing the Dane
 
I recently had the pleasure of participating in a BBC Documentary entitled
"Playing the Dane", which I believe aired on PBS sometime earlier this year. In
it, many Hamlets of the past, Christopher Plummer, Kevin Kline, Mel Gibson,
Jeremy Geidt among them, discussed respective interpretations, problems in
playing the role, observations re: both part and the play itself. For those of
you who might be interested in seeing it, I have been told that plans are afoot
to release it on CD-ROM sometime later this year.
 
I continue to enjoy all of the cyberxchanges on this wonderful forum and I
extend very best wishes to all of you.
 
Stacy Keach
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 17 May 1995 17:15:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Claudius' Attempt at Prayer
 
In 1964 I auditioned for Carl Weber of the Cleveland Playhouse and other
regional theatre directors at the TCG Ford Foundation auditions at Chicago, and
such was the setup that we young actors could watch the two or three audtioners
before our turn. Of the three pieces each had to do, I was amazed to find, as I
sat in the stalls of the Goodman Theatre, that another actor in his twenties
was doing Claudius' "Oh my offence is rank..." speech not only as subtly and
quietly as I intended myself, but also inflected upwards and downwards at
exactly the same places, gave a vowel greater value on the same words, timed
the caesurae to precisely the same length and effect.
 
It was this experience that gave birth to my lifelong interest in how the
texture and shape of a mature Shakespearean speech can produce the character
itself.
 
When it came to
                "Oh limed soul, that struggling to be free
                 Art more engaged!"
neither of us raised our volume, but expressed our fatal frustrations by
keeping our mouths almost closed, with those very closwd sounds of "limed soul"
and "struggling" were in both consonantal and vowel opposition to the much
desired "free" which is ground down into the hellish ground immediately by the
antithetical, rough, teeth-clenched plaint of "engaged".
 
I wish I still remembered that actor's name, we had such a stimulating
converstion in a bar afterwards in which we saw into the life of some of the
verse. I wish I could thank him now for having improved my acting, not to
mention my teaching. I know there are many others on SHAKSPER who have
similarly visceral reactions to the feel of the verse that they put into use in
performance and research.
 
It was thinking about *Hamlet* today that brought on this new fit of praise for
WS's greatest moments.
 
Harry Hill
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kate Wilson <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 May 1995 15:26:55 +1000 (EST)
Subject: 6.0396 Re: More *Hamlet*s
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0396 Re: More *Hamlet*s
 
In either 1969 or 1970 when I was a theatre student in London, I saw the Round
House (Chalk Farm) production of HAMLET starring Nicol Williamson, Judy Parfitt
(as Gertrude), Marianne Faithfull (Ophelia) and a then-unknown to me, but
absolutely riveting Anthony Hopkins as Claudius. The Roundhouse was a huge 19C
railway engine turning shed which had been converted into a performance space
and arts centre. I remember Williamson's bear-like rumbling Hamlet being
absolutely outclassed by the mercurial intellect of Hopkins'performance.
Despite the daunting size of the auditorium, Hopkins energy and vocal power
easily filled the space. It was a great lesson in presence for we young actors.
 

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