The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0883 Wednesday, 18 April 2001
Date: Tuesday, 17 Apr 2001 21:24:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Hamlet, Starring Simon Russell Beale
The production is a scandal, a gray streak of mediocrity, a lifeless
illustration of Macbeth's soliloquy on meaningless tomorrows. Scene
after pallid scene is performed without conviction, energy or
commitment. Peter McEnery's Claudius is a mild, professorial figure,
barely distinguishable from Polonius. The other actors are worse, A
dusty light half-illumines the proceedings, turning Denmark into a
kingdom of ashes.
Hamlet at least should surge above this tepid wash, but Beale settles
happily into it, dog-paddling contentedly. He is a short, fat, twitchy
fellow, with arms like little flippers. He does not so much traverse
the stage as heave across it like a seal. He has a notable tic,
scratching himself repeatedly on the head, chin, arms and chest. His
congested voice and plummy diction make one think of a fop with catarrh.
At times Beale assumes a comically ghoulish expression, as if he were
playing Thersites. Yet his habitual mien is one of nose-wrinkling
disgust. Perhaps he is sniffing the rot that pervades Denmark, or
perhaps he is smelling his own performance.
Beale is soft-spoken and subdued to the point of monotony;
intellectually he seems slow on the uptake. He tends to act in lengthy
pauses between lines, a bad habit that makes him appear sluggish. One
reviewer has praised him for being "ordinary," as if that were
appropriate for Hamlet. Others have commended his "gentle" and "humane"
qualities; but then danger and excitement are hardly to be expected from
a fat, graceless runt. Pound for pound (and he has more than his
share), Beale is the most unattractive, uncharismatic, unexciting,
unmoving, uninteresting--ah well, let's just say it: he's the worst
Hamlet I've ever seen.
Several seats down from me in the same row sat two boys, aged about 10
or 11. They were intelligent, well-spoken and, before the curtain rose,
alert with excitement. Then came the first scene: heavily abridged,
cursorily staged, and acted in so perfunctory a manner that no one
unfamiliar with the play was likely to have followed it. As each
wretched scene succeeded, with no actor exerting himself to seize the
audience's hearts or minds, the boys slumped lower and lower in their
seats, staring miserably at the floor, bludgeoned by disappointment.
They may well grow up to loathe and avoid Shakespeare; and who could
blame them? There was once a time when Shakespearean productions moved,
consoled and exhilarated me; now they depress and disgust me beyond
measure. I abandoned Beale's Hamlet at intermission thinking how weary,
stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.
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