The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0143  Friday, 21 January 2000.

From:           Tony Burton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 21 Jan 2000 05:36:49 -0800
Subject: 11.0104 Hamlet Q1 Performance
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0104 Hamlet Q1 Performance

I just returned from two happy theater-going weeks in London, where the
Red Shift's production of Q1 Hamlet at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London
on January 20 had no problems with the smoke machine, probably because
the auditorium was a large one.  The setting was the same as described
by John Briggs, but I thought the use of the metal screen and pyramidal
frustrums for percussion effects worked well, and also the imaginative
way the pyramids were moved around, laid down, and generally redeployed
to form stages, platforms, hiding places, etc. as needed from scene to
scene.  I didn't have the text with me, and couldn't follow the cuts as
well as Briggs seems to have done, but a few production notes may be of

Hamlet's first soliloquy-too sallied flesh-was performed downstage
while, behind and unseen we hear the barely audible sound of Claudius'
(Q2 and F) speech to the court describing his brother's death and his
own succession and marriage to Gertrude.  It was effective, but directly
contrary to the purpose of presenting Q1 as a coherent work that could
be followed and understood on its own.  I thought the actor playing
Horatio did a fine job and I'm sorry not to have his name at hand right
now .

The modern military regalia was certainly  intrusive for the sort of
experiment a full-scale performance of Q1 represents, but not overly
disturbing until his last lines-"Take up the bodies.  Such a sight as
this/ Becomes the field, but here doth much amiss," when he lifts his
pistol and points it at Horatio's temple.  This is a clear reference to
Ingmar Bergman's daring production of the 80's, where troops dressed  in
the (then chic) style of Cuban guerillas with Fortinbras in the Che
Guevarra role, burst into an otherwise Elizabethan court scene and, in
the same gesture used in this production, Fortinbras shot Horatio dead.
Here, the play ended with the gesture only.

All in all, a strange compromise, almost a vote of no confidence in the
initial idea, i.e.,  to see how Q1 works onstage.  But the most
interesting feature to me was the overall impression how well Q1 does
work to convey the story with sufficient action to hold interest for the
duration of the performance.  Indeed, there was so little lost by reason
of the absence of the great poetry of the familiar Q2 and F texts, the
running images and metaphors beloved of scholars, the memorable phrases
that still enrich our language, that it stands as a powerful indictment
of every modern production I can recall, that so little is made by their
directors of the visual imagery packed into the "improved" versions as
they reduce the play, each from their own (Freudian, Marxist,
historical-pageant, action-film, rebellious youth, etc.) points of
departure, into little more than an enactment of the plot line.  So what
did Shakespeare hope to ADD to the stage version with all those pretty
word pictures?  Loving the imagery as I do, I hope someday to see it
more central to some director's efforts to capture the substance of the
play for a modern audience.  I invite requests for consultation.

It's good to be back.  Tony B

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