The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1353  Monday, 4 June 2001

From:           Christine Gordon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 03 Jun 2001 13:55:10 -0500
Subject:        The Spring of Three Hamlets

I had the opportunity to see three different productions of _Hamlet_
within the last few months and thought I'd share my responses with the

Theatre de la Jeune Lune's production was directed by Paddy Hayter of
the Footsbarn Travelling Theatre (based in France). Jeune Lune and
Footsbarn share a connection to the Jacques le Coq School in Paris.
Their production was set in a mythic time, with many connections made to
elemental forces. The set was covered with sand, had two pools of water
upstage left and right, torches burned throughout the production, and
the final confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes was staged with
shield and spear rather than rapier and dagger. The text was a collation
of Q1 and Folio (which I had an opportunity to read), though by the time
the production opened many of the more obvious Q1 sections had either
been cut or replaced by Folio versions. The cast was very strong,
especially Steven Epp in the title role. Sarah Agnew was also a notably
strong Ophelia. The relationship between Gertrude and Claudius was
emphatically sexual throughout the first half of the production, so
Gertrude's withdrawal from Claudius later in the show was more
powerful.  The majors cuts were the Fortinbras subplot and Rosencrantz
and Gildenstern. Overall, a very powerful production.

List members have already commented on the Royal National Theatre
production directed by John Caird with Simon Russell Beale in the title
role. It played here at the Guthrie Theater. Set in a more conventional
time frame, with a heavily Christian set (crosses were a prominent stage
and costume element), it too was a deeply felt and powerful production.
This production and Jeune Lune's were very dark in a literal sense; the
lighting was intended perhaps to enclose us in the womb of the play.
Beale was, for me, the highlight of this production. Like Steven Epp,
his Hamlet was a young (emotionally, if not physically) man whose
essential personality was that of a very gentle man. He had no desire to
kill, and the ghost's command was an extremely difficult task to
fulfill. This is the first Hamlet I've ever seen who, even in the final
moments, hesitates to commit murder. I did not especially like Ophelia
in this production, though I found her much better in the second act
than in the first. Fortinbras was missing from this production, though
R&G were not.

Last weekend, I traveled to Chicago to see Peter Brook's production with
Adrian Lester in the title role. This production, too, has been
commented on by some list members. Unlike the others, this was an
extremely pared down production. It ran 2-1/2 hours (no intermission) as
opposed to Jeune Lune's three hours, and the RNT's 3-1/2. It had no
"conceptual" framework; the set was a large orange floor covering, a
smattering of rugs, cushions, and large wheeled footstools/hassocks
which served as seating at various points. In vivid contrast to the
other two, this production was very light, and the only lighting effects
I noticed were in the Mousetrap scene. Brook also eliminated the
Fortinbras plot, and rearranged the text in some substantial ways. Eight
actors performed; the other "missing" roles were Marcellus and Bernardo,
Osric (by name). With this production, however, I knew I was in the
hands of a genius. All the performers were superb, with Lester the first
among equals. The rethinking of the text was thoughtful and profound.
Though I deeply enjoyed all three productions, this is the one I will
hold in my heart, since it provided what I most deeply enjoy in the
theater: text and actors, with little else to distract. And what a
text!  And what actors!

Chris Gordon

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