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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: August ::
Re: Stratford Festival Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1600  Monday, 28 August 2000.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Aug 2000 11:55:06 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

[2]     From:   Richard Nathan <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Aug 2000 20:46:24 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

[3]     From:   Toby Malone <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 Aug 2000 09:53:44 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

[4]     From:   Carol A. Cole <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 Aug 2000 10:30:48 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Aug 2000 11:55:06 -0700
Subject: 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

Andy,

I don't know how Paul Gross' Hamlet was received - I have not seen
reviews - but I did hear some negative comments by word of mouth.  They
were mostly of the "they hired a star when they needed an actor"
variety.  Here is my own response.

I've never heard of Paul Gross, so I took no baggage to the theater.
The script was trimmed, as you'd expect, but the characters and
incidents were more intact then many productions I have seen.  Yes, all
the Norway stuff, R&G, and even Reynaldo were there.  Polonius was on
the silly side.  The production was clear and straightforward.  I'd
grade it PRETTY GOOD, maybe even good, but not exceptional.  I didn't
become emotionally engaged and it never really took off, at least not on
the afternoon I attended.

Since Paul Gross has been thumped, at least by word of mouth, I'll close
with comments about his performance.

I was pleasantly surprised after his first 10 minutes.  He weeps through
the entire first scene, and then through a big portion of his first
monologue.  He then stops abruptly at a certain line, wish I could
remember which, and proceeds without tears.  It seemed actorly, rather
than real.

There is an old show business adage that if you don't cry the audience
will.  If you do cry, the audience won't.  Gross and the director would
have done well to heed that.

Afterwards, his performance became pretty interesting.  Gross really
understands the meaning of his lines.  He understands them with breath
taking clarity.  He is also able to deliver that meaning to the audience
in the way that Nicol Williamson does.  His performance lacks the
mercurial fire that makes Williamson so unforgettable, but they do share
that ability to speak and deliver.

Having said that, there is a danger of using verbal tricks to, in
effect, annunciate certain words in kind of verbal bold type and
italics, to verbally underline key phrases and draw arrows to your
meaning.  That would be overdoing it.  Gross overdoes it, but the
virtues of his speaking this way can not be separated from the
disadvantages.  Had he taken it down a notch, he would have lost some of
what make it so clear.

He said in an interview that his Hamlet would be a work in progress
until closing night.  I respect that, and remind everyone that these
comments only apply to the matinee I attended a week and a half ago, 13
days by the time you read this.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Nathan <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Aug 2000 20:46:24 +0000
Subject: 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

I didn't care for the Stratford Festival Hamlet, although I seemed to be
in the minority at the performance I attended.  The majority of the
audience seemed to love it.

The actor playing "HAMLET" reminded me of Gene Wilder in  the film "THE
PRODUCERS."  He was frantic and his voice kept cracking.

In his first scene, he seemed ready to break down in tears in his "Oh
that this too, too solid flesh would melt" soliloquy.  (Or did he use
the "sullied" version?  I can't remember.)  The speech gave me the
impression that we were going to see a "HAMLET" who really completely
overcome by depression.

But as the play went on, he seemed more and more antic.  He was having a
great time pretending to be mad.  This was the madcap "Hamlet" of the
old legends, upon which the play was based - but I found it impossible
to reconcile the madcap Hamlet with the weeping character from Act I,
Scene II.

But, as I said, I was in the minority.  Most of the audience seemed to
love it.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Toby Malone <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Aug 2000 09:53:44 +0800
Subject: 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

Hi Andrew -

I was in Stratford in May - I drove out from Toronto with my fiancee as
a birthday treat, and for not many reasons other than the novelty
factor, we went along to see Gross' 'Hamlet', as well as 'AYLI'.

I didn't know what I was expecting - not terribly much, since all I had
seen of Gross was 'Due South'. Hamlet is the type of role that cannot be
fudged - audiences expect too much of him to be able to fake it (I
believe) and I was almost cringing as the lights went down because I was
worried that this talented TV actor would embarrass himself.

How wrong I was!!

I was absolutely delighted to see Gross' Hamlet - he brought a humour to
the role that Gibson attempted but didn't quite nail, but he also
invoked a deep respect for the character.  There were some parts that
were perhaps not perfectly polished, and some directorial decisions were
made that didn't really sit all that well - Hamlet's 'goodnight mother',
thrown light-heartedly over his shoulder as he drags the prone Polonius
off to the church, was one that incited roars of laughter from the
hundreds of schoolkids in the audience, but did nothing for the tone of
the scene.  Speaking of schoolkids, when i arrived at the theatre I
inwardly groaned as I noted that I was one of only a few dozen adult
theatre goers in the place - we all know what bored schoolkids'
reactions to halfbaked Shakespeare is...  Happily, with the incredible
strength of the production, carried admirably by Paul Gross, not a peep
was heard from the kids for the entire 3 hours - they were transfixed.

Apologies for not being able to give a better account of the show - it
was nearly 5 months ago and I have been traveling a lot since.  I guess
the easiest way to put it is that I loved it.  My fiancee, who didn't
know 'Hamlet' all that well, loved it as well.

Anyone else see it?  Thoughts?

Toby Malone
University of Western Australia

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol A. Cole <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Aug 2000 10:30:48 -0400
Subject: 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1588 Stratford Festival Hamlet

Andy White asks:

>Any word on Paul Gross' Hamlet at Stratford?  Seeing as we were
>thespians together in high school when he was here in the Washington,
>D.C. area, I am curious how he is being received up there.

I saw the production in June, and while I can't say Gross's
interpretation was beyond the text, I did not find it convincing.  He
was visibly crying in the court scene in I.2, which I did not think
likely (in contrast to Laertes's convincingly distraught scene when he
hears of Ophelia's death).  Gross also had a lot of strange nervous
gestures, even before he pretends to be mad.  Maybe in this production
he really was.  I had the sense that Gross's Hamlet must have been
emotionally unstable back in Wittenburg, and his father's death and
Gertrude's remarriage sent him over the edge.  The nobility of the
character was lost, and I could not mourn when he was slain.

On the plus side, I liked Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius a lot, and
overall the production still worked much better for me than the
Stratford production several years ago (1994), in which the actors all
seemed to have their own ideas of what the play was about but no common
vision.

I should also add that our b&b hostess did not notice the emotional
extremism when she saw Gross's Hamlet, leaving us to wonder if he was
experimenting.

Best, Carol
 

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