Monday, 24 October 2011

WUDS: The Real Thing

by Tom Stoppard.

... I thought it was excellent. Some of my friends disagreed, but I thought hat the costumes were fantastic, authentic 80s, not really bad fancy dress knock offs that are currently so popular (kudos to Becky Bailey) and the set was spectacular. I especially loved the noticeboard back wall, it's very similar to the walls in my bedroom...

Ed Davis who played Henry was fantastic, we all agreed. Somehow he seemed to become a middle aged man in front of our eyes without falling on stereotype. He embodied the part, never once appearing out of character. It was pretentious without ever being unlikeable, something quite difficult to do. Unfortunately I found Niki Williams a bit flat in comparison, but only because her counterpart was so good.

I loved the use of the balcony as what my tutor Tess would call a "discovery space", seeing only spotlit silent fragments of characters lives outside the confines of the single flat and train carriage. I thought that the conveyance of emotion without speech must have been quite difficult to portray, yet worked perfectly to break up the other lengthy scenes. What was also very clever was the smallest details, both in script and production; that Annie is starring in Tis a Pity she's a Whore and reads Catch 22 on her train journey to Glasgow. Tiny tiny details, yet wonderfully depicted.

The true joy of this play for me however was the soundtrack. I want it. The best of 80s music all the way through, heard over the gramophone and the radio. Simply fantastic. Good music, good acting and fast paced, witty writing, overall an excellent night out. I wish I could recommend you all go see the play but unfortunately it has now finished. There is another WUDS production in a weeks time of Marlowe's Faustus.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Hamlet: Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart BBC version

I didn't think there could be a worse version than that of Mel Gibson. I was wrong.
For one thing, this is the FULL version of the play, running at 212 minutes. However whilst this isn't a problem with the Globe productions or even the Kenneth Brannagh version which captured my interest, this production simply bored me. The props and scenery were minimal, and if you're going with that style, then you need to have really convincing performances from every single actor.
Whilst I adore Patrick Stewart, his Claudius was unmemorable, never really convincing me he was a scheming villain who killed his brother. There seemed no deep emotional involvement. Plus, he looked really weird with hair.
Horatio seemed to completely fade into the background, merely a nothing character there to prompt Hamlet, despite his having some of the deepest and most cutting lines in the play. I can't even remember what he looked like.
Gertrude did a lot of heavy breathing in a very low cut dress, this was pretty much all that stuck with me after she had died.
Now, Derek Jacobi. Perhaps I would have overlooked all these other small issues if the Hamlet had been captivating. Every... Single.... Word.... Seemed... to.... have... a... dramatic... pause. A wild flourish of arms or a drawn out siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. It was very overacted to the point of hilarity. He also decided to stare into the camera for each soliloquy, which was quite disturbing as I was sat about a foot from the screen. Every so often I would turn back from the conversation and see a strange man staring at me intently.
My primary complaint with Jacobi however was his delivery of the To be or not to be soliloquy. This is one of the most famous pieces of literature in the English language. And I was bored. I didn't care whether Hamlet decided to be a good little prince or to throw himself from the battlements. And therein lies the issue, I love Hamlet, I love the deep introspection, the mercurial emotions, the hate, love, lust, anger and revenge that sits at the heart of the play, but if the actors aren't utterly believable then it becomes a 212 minute dirge.

Two points of mention; Laertes and Polonius were amazing, Polonius balancing the thin line between ridicule and dislike from the audience but appearing a genuine, brown-nosing drip, whilst Laertes anger added some much needed authenticity to the final acts which otherwise seemed to crawl along at a snails pace.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hamlet: Mel Gibson style

Amazingly, this 1990 blockbuster was nominated for 2 (count them, 2!) Oscars. What the academy were thinking I'll never know, but it was probably something along the the lines of "ooh look at all the stars! And it's Shakespeare, you can't knock Shakespeare!"

The best I can say is that it was interesting.

Mel Gibson seems to have modelled Hamlet on a thug. The only way he is able to convey anger is by throwing people against castle walls, ignoring other avenues such as tone, expression or even the BLOODY WORDS ON THE SCRIPT. (I am calm, I am calm... breathe.) I'm just saying, Shakespeare has expressed the most complex emotions in beautiful, elegant and empathetic language. There's a bit more to Hamlet in my opinion than just anger.
Then there's the hair. They decided Hamlet should be blond, but in dying Gibson's hair it has gone a straw like auberny brown. Not handsome. Half the time I was concentrating more on his hair than on his words, which says a lot about his acting.

There is also a really creepy sex-like encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude (played by Glen Close) just before he kills Polonius. He's meant to be a little mad, but with the writhing and the moaning and grunting and thrusting it came off more as creepy than anything else. Plus, Glen Close takes the opportunity to neck someone any chance she gets, whether its Hamlet (too long for being appropriate, plus on the mouth), or Claudius who comes of very Henry VIII-like - loud, pompous, always carousing, eating, drinking, getting amorous or partying. The one true moment I felt was when he spoke to Laertes about his love for Gertrude, which was quiet and understated compared to the brash character we viewed for the other 2and a half hours.

I understood from the beginning that chunks of text would have to be cut to produce a Hamlet for the masses in the cinema, but I had to question which bits were cut. There is no mention of the ghost for the first half hour, the soliloquies seemed rushed or severely cut and Ophelia's gradual descent into madness and rambling folly took place in the space of two seconds. Normal. Completely bonkers. Dead. And that was the end of Ophelia.

This I felt was a shame, as Helena Bonham Carter does crazed and loopy very very well. In fact I'm stretched to remember a role that hasn't included insanity. Nevertheless, I thought Ophelia was a good representation, if severely limited in development due to lack of screen time.

What was used instead of speech was a large number of dramatic and misty landscape shots of the castle, the sea, galloping horses, dilapidated turrets, fancily dressed nobles.... It was very atmospheric and pretty, but didn't add much to the play. I personally would have favoured a bit less window dressing and a bit more acting.

With Fortinbras entirely cut from the plot, I was curious as to what would be made of the finale. I liked the fighting between Hamlet and Laertes, feeling real sympathy for Laertes as Gibson portrayed Hamlet as prancing around, using the bout for comedic effect against the deeper tensions of the room. However, the poisoning of the cup and sword couldn't have been staged in a more obvious manner. They must have thought the audience a pretty stupid bunch, needful of having the situation c-l-e-a-r-l-y and s-l-o-w-l-y explained.
As to the question of what happens to the Danish court with the massacre of their entire ruling class... unexplained. I'm assuming the country went into financial melt-down and descended into anarchy, but that's my choice.

Overall, if you want to see a GOOD staging of Hamlet, my advice would be to instead view either the Laurence Olivier, RSC David Tenant or the Kenneth Branagh versions, all of which are longer but very very enjoyable; well acted, visually pleasing and true to the text.

So Catrin Says...

Back to blogging

So, university has recommenced and I have a ridiculous number of plays, films and books to remember, hence here I am. Coming up we shall have 18th century drivel and filth, 19th century brilliance and misery and Shakespearean wonder and horror. For my part I shall simply endeavour to be honest and regular.