Monthly Archives: October 2010

Prince of Denmark, at the National Theatre, Cuttesloe Theatre

she couldn't believe he forgot to tape the apprentice

Have you ever wondered what Hamlet was like before his father died? Was he more concerned with being a man or a prince? Was he truly in love with Ophelia? And did he always think so much? These are just some of the questions that are answered in director Anthony Banks and writer Michael Lesslie’s new specially commissioned play that is currently showing alongside Hamlet.


We follow the famous characters a decade before Hamlet. Polonius’ family have arrived making Laertes anxious about his position, so he tries to set up a way that Hamlet can meet his demise. If you have never read or seen Hamlet this would be difficult to follow, there are so many in-jokes and reference that would be lost. The play does not shed any new light onto Hamlet, but is extremely funny, witty, and interesting because of our hindsight.

The show stars teenagers drawn from the National Youth Theatre (of which Jude Law, a later Hamlet, is a famous alumnus). Eve Ponsoby’s Ophelia is mesmerising, and much of the story sympathetically explores her character as a girl in a man’s world. The whole take on Ophelia pre-Hamlet is much like Virginia Woolf’s idea of Shakespeare’s Sister, which wonders how a female who is just as talented as a male would succeed in Shakespeare’s world.

The sixteenth-century speech is wonderfully recreated, for example when Hamlet questions the “measure of a man” it has echoes of Macbeth’s “I dare do all that may become a man”. Additionally we constantly feel like we are a part of the action with actors lurking in the circle, and then shouting out lines from the aisle.

This is 50 minutes jam-packed with sword-fighting, verbal sparring, and full on flirting. Judging by the applause and enthusiasm of the audience largely made up of young people, this could have certainly been longer. Following on from the Royal Shakespeare’s tour of schools with a shortened Hamlet, which enraptured its eight-year-old audience, Banks’ version further shows how the play is perfect for getting a younger audience into theatre. A gem.

Runs till 26 October.

To see or not to see: * * * *


Hamlet, at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre

he took method acting seriously and took to sleeping onstage

One of the most famous Shakespearean speeches, “to be or not to be”, is about to begin and Hamlet is at the front of the stage in a hoodie and puffing on a cigarette. This is Hamlet in modern day: he is dressed more like a student than a prince, Ophelia is first found listening to indie band The XX, and the players wear t-shirts with acid house smiley faces and “villain” across it in capital letters. If you’re a hardcore Hamlet-ite, you have been warned.

The play tells the story of Hamlet who is distraught by the recent death of his father, and “o’er hasty” marriage of his mother Gertrude to his uncle Claudius. He sees a ghost claiming to be his father, and it tells him to revenge his “foul and most unnatural murder” by Claudius. Director Nicholas Hytner’s version is refreshing, but the subtle changes certainly add to the text rather than take away from it: it is suggested that Ophelia’s death is a set-up not an accident, and there are secret agents often lurking onstage like sixteenth-century palace informers.

Rory Kinnear, son of late comedian Roy, is an outstanding Hamlet. He is played as an ordinary everyman in an extraordinary situation, and whose madness, which Kinnear excels at, is a comedy act. Kinnear effortlessly slips from being anxious to self-assured, from miserable to enraged, and in and out of Hamlet’s multifaceted parts. Clare Higgins Gertrude is played perfectly as the sympathetic mother with little attention to the Ernest Jones’ Oedipus Complex study, however Patrick Malahide’s Polonious remains a svengali figure with no suggestion that he could genuinely be in love with Gertrude.

The set, largely made up of white palace walls, works well indoors but does not always lend itself well to the outdoor scenes. One of the unexpected highlights, however, includes the players; what is often a dull moment in the play is vamped up with a dance narrating the story. Additionally you don’t notice that the play is a lengthy three hours and thirty minutes, instead it takes its time to simmer and sparkle. Hytner has done it: his previous work London Assurance was an eighteenth century comedy bash that was well received by critics, but Hamlet has been updated in a fresh and brave way for all audiences. A hit, a palpable hit.

Runs till 9 January, and tours the country until 12 March. Returns to National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre from 13 April till 23 April.

To see or not to see: * * * *

Romeo and Juliet, at Sadler’s Wells

nope, i still got the hiccups

It’s certainly the season for ballet: Natalie Portman is already tipped as an Oscar favourite for her role as the tortured ballerina in Black Swan, Emily Blunt is starring as a ballerina falling for a politician in The Adjustment Bureau, and even Cheryl Cole is trading her harem pants for a tutu in her latest single Promise This. If you want to watch ballet at its best, however, the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company touring production of Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet is unmissable.

As the curtain rises there is no mistaking that we are in Verona; there are sixteenth century costumes and grand palace-like set pieces. In this ballet it is love at first dance for the two teenagers from feuding families. When Romeo, a Montague, meets Juliet, a Capulet, at a masked ball, they instantly fall in love and only recognise the other when it’s too late.

Sergei Prokofiev’s gripping and tragedy-tinged score accompanies the story of the two doomed lovers, taking us through the delights of first love to the heartbreak of their death. Highlights include the spectacular opening brawl that begins with two, four, and then suddenly up to ten pairs of sword fighters; the Dance of the Knights, better known as The Apprentice theme tune, as the backdrop of the ballroom dance; and the menacing dark chord progressions and soaring melodies accompanying Juliet’s suicide.

Everything about the production is polished, dramatic, and undeniably sensual. One of the most powerful images occurs in the ethereal moment when the lovers are at the balcony, never quite being able to hold hands, forever reaching out for each other. The image epitomises the play, which could do with being more erotically charged. Romeo and Juliet are a couple full not only of love, but lust, looking to get married soon so they can consummate their relationship.

Juliet, with this ballet, is the focal point, and Jenna Roberts does not disappoint as we constantly feel her psychological and emotional turmoil. One minor point is that it is difficult to see how she has progressed, as she does in the text, from being a girl into a young woman, as she remains forever angelic in her movements and virginal outfit. Mercutio is excitingly played by Alexander Campbell and is, as he should be, a crowd pleaser. He has a bravado that brings comedy to the performance in addition to sentimentality in his ill-fated death. And Michael O’Hare proves he is a fine performer, playing both Friar Lawrence and Lord Capulet.

A poignant and rich show from the start to finish.

Runs till 16 October, and tours the county until 20 October.

To see or not to see: * * * *

Krapp’s Last Tape, at the Duchess Theatre

excuse me, is that a mobile phone i hear

Michael Gambon is on stage and has been for the past twenty minutes. He blinks, flinches, ambles, and has not even spoken. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is engrossed. Watching Samuel Beckett for the first time can be baffling, it’s like seeing a Damien Hirst exhibition for the first time where you’re left questioning, as the two artists want you to, on the point and pointlessness of art.

Director Michael Colgan directs the one-man 50-minute show. It tells the story of Krapp, it’s his 69th birthday, and he’s listening to recordings he made of himself 30 years earlier. Whilst this may sound depressing, and it certainly looks that way from the opener where Krapp is head down in hibernation at his table, there is a lot of subtle Larkin-like comedy throughout. Krapp playfully teases us: he steps in and out of the spotlight; does not trip up on a banana skin, in a post-modern move, as we expect him to from Beckett’s stage directions; and has a mix of elderly and child-like manners.

Max Wall, John Hurt, and Harold Pinter have previously taken on the role. Gambon’s grey hair, heavily lined face, and haggard body make him a perfect fit for the ageing character. He indulges in every word, delivers Beckett’s lines like poetry, and leaves a ghost-like presence with every step he makes. He is enticing, repulsive, and above all a tragic figure left holding his tape recorder like a cross between a baby and a lover. An unforgettable performance.

Runs till 20 November.

To see or not to see: * * * *