The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1359 Monday, 4 June 2001
Date: Monday, 4 Jun 2001 11:44:45 -0400
Subject: Beale's Hamlet
Having just come back from New York City, and the BAM, I imagine a few
of us can now begin to talk about the National Theatre production of
Hamlet with a bit more objectivity than either the NY Times critic (who
gushed exceedingly) and certain list-members here who obviously have
issues with obesity.
My first observation is that once, just once, I wish Times critics were
forced to sit in the upper balcony where I was: all that wonderful
stuff Ben Brantley saw is virtually invisible when you're up in the
'gods.' What makes huge waves in Orchestra, row B hardly manages a
ripple in Balcony, row C (where I was). Ironically, (Dr. Weinstein, are
you reading this?) Beale's much-ballyhooed girth was unnoticeable from
where I sat; and aside from his self-deprecating pat of the belly on
'forgone all custom of exercise' he really didn't seem all that big.
Having seen other quiet, humane Hamlets (Tom Hulce did so with the
Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. some years ago), I didn't find
Beale as revelatory as others did. But he has tremendous talent, and
was clearly in charge of the role from start to finish. The supporting
cast, aside from Peter Blythe (the funniest damned Polonius and one of
the most inventive Gravediggers I've ever seen) were OK but they were
clearly not interested in outshining their star.
What annoyed me about his Hamlet, frankly, was what annoys me about
practically every other Hamlet I have ever seen. Aside from the staging
(boxes, stacked and re-stacked for each scene) and the ubiquity of
Gregorian Chant (even the Gravedigger sings an Easter hymn), there was
almost nothing new in John Caird's vision of the play. This lack of
creative thinking may satisfy most members of the audience, who are
conditioned to the old, Goethe-inflected Dane ("Melancholy means
depressed"), but it left me cold.
Because my high level of annoyance with the RNT production is due to my
own personal understanding of the role (I've played it myself), it would
be inappropriate for me to whine about it here. The audience Saturday
night at BAM was for the most part spellbound, and that is what should
be put on record, not my own nit-picky complaints.
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