Really good theater is more than timeless; it’s a cord that the actors and director pull which unearths the past in the present, connecting us in an almost eerie, ephemeral and visceral way; pulling us into a journey in which finally we are but a timeless audience ourselves in homage to the joy, the revelry, the delighted surprise or pain that is the “human condition” in art.
Just that kind of experience was Hamlet last night.
It was the kind of show that you sense, while in it—ah, see, I’ve said we were in Hamlet, rather than we were watching it—is more than simply a production of a show. It was a piece of history in the making.
The kind of performance that enters history on its own powerful wings, that gives pulse and flight to Shakespeare fit even to astound the playwright himself. I believe Shakespeare himself would have walked out like us last night, aware he had seen greatness; that he had seen his words filled with even more soul than ever even he’d imagined.
Oh, to share that with the wider world in the US…
I hate collecting unnecessary things, including paper. I’ll collect a million notes and whatnot for my books—yes. I’ll collect books themselves—yes. But nothing else, really. I don’t like to have too much.
But by the time the first act ended, I was scrambling for the playbill I’d tossed aside, and I clutched it close thereafter. History’s in that playbill. Some of our finest actors are in there now, forever captured in their great roles.
I won’t lie, my first thoughts were less…lofty. My first thought, as the scene opened with Hamlet on the floor, dressed in distinctly not-old Scandinavian garb, the light and music highlighting his silent inner torment, was: “Oh, they’re using music? And simplifying the wardrobe? Hm. Sigh.” And then, only because I said I wouldn’t lie, I’ll admit to another thought: “Huh, so Jude Law really is that handsome in real life.”
But then it began. Horatio (Matt Ryan) and the guards seeing Hamlet’s dead father’s ghost, and in horror summoning Hamlet (Law). Hamlet questioning them and dashing up. Within two scenes the humor, the madness, the compassion, the loyalty and friendship, the fear, the profane and profound, and we were hushed and breathless. And now I can add to my summation of Mr Law that that man can act.
No, not just act. Not just inhabit a role.
There simply is no way to explain it. The actors acting as Horatio, Hamlet, Polonius (Ron Cook)—at whose name alone I already begin to giggle in anticipation—and Guildenstern (Harry Attwell) were stand-outs. Ah yes, and the King (Peter Eyre) and Hamlet’s uncle (Kevin R. McNally).
I tell you, those actors did their entire (what shall I call it?—craft? industry?) profession justice of the highest caliber. They bowed before us when the show was over, but I tell you, we might have bowed to them. Bowed in gratitude that they brought us a living, fraught Hamlet. They delivered Shakespeare from the 17th century for us. They brought us back, brought us in and delivered us back home safely but changed.
They were brilliance. There were scenes so powerful—in acting, lighting and directing (and never has the impact of that strong nexus been so clear to me as in this production)—that one felt the audience itch to clap but refrain, in fear of distracting the players in the next scene, or missing a single moment of the drama.
At the end of the first act, I turned to my friend J and said, “This makes me want to reread parts of the play.” But what madness, I already do from time to time reread parts of the play. By the end of the entire performance, I had regained my senses. “This makes me want to reread most of the play.” (I can skip some of the political scenes, I admit it.)
And when I got home, I did. And as I did, I strove to hear their voices, their cadences in the words. For the life in their words was such as to fill the play as never had it been filled before for me. I can still hear Hamlet’s voice now in my head… Polonius’s… Horatio’s…
Never had I heard these speeches as I did last night. Never had I felt such compassion for Hamlet, but likewise never had I loved Horatio before, and never laughed so hard at poor, confused Polonius. Never had I felt anything much for the Queen at all. Never had I pitied the Ghost King. Never had I marveled at the control of the King Usurper before all unraveled. Never had I sorrowed over the loss of faith betwixt Hamlet and old buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Oh, oh, oh. What brilliance and what beauty was that play.
If you get the chance, please see it. You will see history thrumming with life, heart and fury. You will bleed. You will love. You will blog.
* Directed by Michael Grandage; Set & Costume Design by Christopher Oram; Composer & Sound by Adam Cork, and Lighting by Neil Austin.