Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hamlet Online

Comprehensive website and reference tool.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Teens create Hamlet 'in the Hood'

"Brainstorming ideas for a project promoting nonviolence, the students chose a work in which almost all the main characters are dead by the time the curtain falls. But in their version, Hamlet openly discusses his troubles with his mother and friends, and his murderous uncle ends up in jail instead of dead at Hamlet's hands in a second, "rewind" ending." [via]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beep. It's from Hamlet.

You know, you read this stuff and scream. I mean really: "Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is rendered: "2B? NT2B?=???". At the end of Romeo and Juliet, "bothLuvrs kill Emselves," while Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice concludes when "Evry1GtsMaryd." You'd think a professor would know better.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Hamlet With Cowboys

... and Bruce Willis as Hamlet Snr. Back to the pool again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Tom Stoppard is rewriting Shakespeare into thirty minutes, y'know for kids. No mention of Hamlet but since he's covering twelve then I'd imagine he'll give it a go. It's certainly has to be better than this. It will be interesting to see if he can get away without narration.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

05 Michael Redgrave

Hamlet played by Michael Redgrave
Directed by Sir Michael Redgrave

I've always imagined how Hamlet might sound if it was performed by the cast of the film Brief Encounter, all clipped English accents. Well I can wonder no longer because here it is. I don't know if Trevor Howard ever played the part, but Michael Redgrave is cut from the same jib, all freakish understatement. You're waiting for the sound and fury but it never comes. You can't tell if he's mad or disappointed. Perhaps if he'd had more time.

This production was created for something called the Living Shakespeare and published by for something called the Living Library on LP in the early sixties (which would account for the bright yellow cover) The whole canon seems have been released in this format and the idea is that listener would receive on a month in the same way as those dvd series which have turned up in WH Smith lately. They were cheap, US$3 each plus postage and packaging. Within a couple of years a household would have a whole set of performance to enjoy, which was quite innovative for the time. All very exciting. Except they're condensed. Each play, no matter the original source is but an hour long.

How short can the play be without becoming incomprehensible? This production probably takes us to the limits of the threshold. The text is reproduced in an accompanying booklet and fit on about ten pages. Act Two doesn't even fill a side. Act Five takes up a page and a half. But the font size is pretty big so it seems longer. It's actually quicker to list the scenes which do appear:

Hamlet tells Claudius what he thinks of him while his mother backs up her husband.
Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost of his father.
Hamlet meets the ghost of his father who tells him about the murder.
Laertes leaves and Polonius gives him the 'Give thy thoughts no tongue:'
Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet and his daughter. And the letters.
'To be or not to be...'
Ophelia and Hamlet's argument.
The Mousetrap.
Hamlet confronts his mother and kills Polonius.
Ophelia goes mad.
Leartes returns looking for revenge.
Getrude tells Laertes than Ophelia's dead.
The tussle at the funeral.
The duel.
Everyone dies.

The gaps are bridged by minimal narration. It's a very unusual thing because it keeps the clarity of the story, rather than just keeping in the big speeches which is the usual approach with these things. Which isn't to suggest that if you'd never met the play before you'd have any idea what was going on. None of the characters have the psychological through line of a fuller production. Speaking of characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't just dead, they don't even exist in this world. Neither does Fortinbras (although he's usually missing in action anyway) or the gravedigger. It's more interesting as an intellectual exercise than a performance to enjoy. All the jokes have been taken out. My favourite moment? Hearing Valentine Dyall (who played the supercomputer Deep Thought in The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy and the Black Guardian in Doctor Who) giving his gravitas to The Ghost. Scary.

I listened to the lp of this recording on the 10th July 2005.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

Review of a new book which tells the story of the year that Hamlet may have been written: "But is this self-revising Shakespeare compatible with (author) Shapiro's claims for the pivotal importance of 1599? Even if Shakespeare began Hamlet in that year, he didn't finish - and probably had not even begun - revising it until 1600 or even 1601. When Shapiro claims that the play's famous soliloquies are "not even hinted at in Shakespeare's sources", he is momentarily forgetting that the most important source for Shakespeare's Hamlet was another popular play on the same subject, written in 1589 or earlier, probably by a different playwright. That play might have contained a Hamlet even more soliloquy-prone than Shakespeare's. "We just don't know," as Shapiro is fond of saying about Shakespeare's love life."

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

David Warner on playing Hamlet (and other things).

David Warner tells Michael Coveney of his journey from great Dane to tragic King.
"When David Warner was making a film some years ago with Ian Holm, he asked him what he was doing next. 'Kafka with Jeremy Irons,' said Holm. 'And you, David?' 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze.' Warner tells this sort of story against himself all the time. Tall and gangly, diffident and slightly injured, the 63-year-old actor who was the greatest Hamlet of my lifetime has had a busy but decidedly chequered career since he moved to Hollywood in 1987."
Currently also starring in Big Finish audio's new spin-off version of 'Sapphire and Steel'.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Extract from the musical Hair.

There is a song in the musical Hair containing much of the text from one of Hamlet's soliloquies. Here are the lyrics:
"What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

I have of late
But wherefore I know not
Lost all my mirth
This goodly frame
The earth
Seems to me a sterile promontory
This most excellent canopy
The air-- look you!
This brave o'erhanging firmament
This majestical roof
Fretted with golden fire
Why it appears no other thing to me
Than a foul and pestilent congregation
Of vapors

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason

How dare they try to end this beauty?
How dare they try to end this beauty?

Walking in space
We find the purpose of peace
The beauty of life
You can no longer hide

Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Wide wide wide!"
[I'm guessing that the writer Galt MacDermot couldn't "And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" to scan properly. It's also odd to see the thing flipped over in the middle.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tiny ninjas minimize Shakespeare's Hamlet

That may be the great headline ever. It gets better: "Whatever it was, New York-based Tiny Ninja Theater's production of Hamlet is not your average Shakespeare play. Performed by only one man, mastermind Dov Weinstein, the play is put on with miniscule materials, all the while remaining authentic and true to the author's work. Every character is represented by a different action figure, usually but not always an inch-and-a-half-tall ninja. Fortinbras' character is a Transformer."

Monday, May 16, 2005

04 Ethan Hawke

Hamlet played by Ethan Hawke
Directed by Michael Almereyda

When this version of the play was announced in the late nineties there was total apathy, especially from me. What was the point in revisiting the work so close in time to Branagh's definitive version? The answer was fairly obvious -- this was in the middle of the sudden craze for adaptations of Shakespeare plays for young people, sparked by Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet through Ten Things I Hate About You ending with O. When I heard it was to be set in the millenial New York I was vaguely interested in what would be done with it. Especially since the play is set in Denmark. When I read the cast list and was very excited. Not quite as remarkable as Branagh's but one name jumped out at me.

Polonius ..... Bill Murray

What? Bill Murray doing Shakespeare? Peter Venkman? Phil Connors? Playing Polonius? Genius. What was he going to do with the role?

I'm first in line the day the film opened and the only person in the auditorium for that showing. The reviews had been mixed. This wasn't going to be a massive opening in the UK. The film opens unconventionally with some title cards getting the audience up to speed about the death of Hamlet Sr, establishing shot of Hamlet entering Hotel Elsinore, then scraps of the big speeches played out in the screen of a portable video player ('What a piece of work is a man...'). Title card. Then a press conference in which the King talks on the marriage to his sister-in-law and the takeover plans of the Denmark Corporation by one Fortinbras.

And there he is. Bill. Grinning on the front row, oblivious of mischief making between Ophelia and Hamlet. He gives an entirely uncharacteristic woop and then grins right through into the next scene. He looks, uncomfortable. He looks much like I do in a suit. This next scene in which Laertes offers his intention to leave, Bill gets to use some words and it just sounds wrong. Distracted. Given that all he's saying is that his son wants to leave the country he's about as convincing as I am when I say I'm happy.

When I saw this, I just started laughing. I couldn't help myself. It was more from shock than anything else. Here was one of my favourite actors giving one of the itchiest, gottlestopped performances I'd ever seen, jumping headlong into the hands of writers who say (wrongly) that Americans can't do Shakespeare. So it continues through scene after scene, at no point does he look like he could be Ophelia's dad. There's just no chemistry. Man can act with an elephant, gets acted off the screen by Julia Styles. I actually missed his death scene on that first screening because I went to the toilet to get away from him (which meant the film at that point was playing to no one -- which has the philosophical ring of trees falling in woods making sounds). It clouded my entire impression of the whole film - I just wanted to go home.

Which is a shame, because watching again tonight there is so much else to enjoy. The length, for example. This is a very lean Hamlet, just 106 mins including credits. It replaces much of the verbal poetry with imagery, scenes reduced to the most important, minimalist characters such as Osric lost, replaced by props such as fax machines and mobile phones. Considering the chopping about of the text, the story doesn't lose any clarity, and in fact it gives characters very clear motivations -- Gertrude takes the poison at the end in a vain attempt to save her son's life, rather than as an accident. I don't remember seeing that before. It's also free and easy with the iconic scenes -- we see the grave digger singing 'There must be some kind of way out of here...' but don't stop off for any skullplay.

Which is one of the jarring elements of the film. Shakespearean language intermingles with a modern English of song and advert and iconography. In the silliest of moments, Hamlet and 'friends' jump in the back of a taxi to be met by the voice of Eartha Kitt purringly asking them put on their seat belt. I suppose the intention was to do the opposite of Baz, but it has the effect of making the viewer wonder how the characters communicate with people who aren't characters in the play...

"Hello Domino Pizza?"
"I have a task which I must entrust you to execute with great speed."
"Err ... OK ... "
"Upon this application I do note an elixir of such sweetness that twixt my lips ... "
"Excuse me sir, did you wanna order a pizza?"
"One moment. I must call up my faculties before I ..."

That said it is amusing to see Claudius leaving a limo and stepping towards a theatre playing the stage version of The Lion King, and Hamlet watching the classic Gielgud, interpretation of the role from when he must have been Hawke's age.

Which is a good time to jump in and talk about Ethan Hawke. The choice here seems to be angsty twenty-something (which is about were Hawke at the time). He spends much of the film in introspection, talking to himself or his camcorder. He's entirely misunderstood, and far from being mad, he's a man with a plan. It's actually, for me, cleverly understated, about the anger which bubbles underneath after the death of a relative. He's more of a straight up hero, even after he kills Bill. Sorry Polonius. But all of the performances run against the typical grain of their characters, although as I said before, given the cuts, the real credit is were a mark is made given the fewest of scenes, so hats off to Liev Schrieber. Worth mentioning too is Steve Zahn's Rosencrantz -- talk about creating a character from nothing.

What's most interesting is that after a choppy beginning, once the film settles into a rhythm of playing out whole chunks of the play, in order, it really begins to engross. It does that almost impossible things of being emotional and engrossing even to someone who is becoming increasingly familiar with the work. Considering that setting, it's a surprise that the Ghost of Hamlet Sr (played touchingly by Sam Shepherd) is here at all and not replaced by a VHS from beyond the grave -- but there he is in all his spectral glory. The action of the end of the play is rewritten to amazing and shocking effect, entirely in-keeping with the setting of this version and just as experimental as the rest of it. I'm increasingly seeing how flexible this work is.

I watched the dvd of this film on the 16th May 2005.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Scooby Doo Hamlet

The first clue came from Elsinore's high walls,
Where, so said Hamlet, Hamlet's ghost did walk.
Yet though the elder Hamlet met his death,
And perforce hath been buried in the ground,
'Tis yet true one would not expect a ghost
To carry mud upon his spectral boots.
Yet mud didst Shaggy and his faithful hound
Espy, with footprints leading to a drop.
This might, at first, indeed bespeak a ghost...
Until, when I did seek for other answers,
I found a great, wide cloth of deepest black
Discarded in the moat of Elsinore.
'Tis clear, the "ghost" used this to slow his fall
While darkness rendered him invisible.

Theater club takes on challenge of staging Hamlet

I can't find a flight, so unfortunately I'll be missing this: "For perhaps the first time ever, a live production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet will be staged on Saipan. Scheduled for evening performances on Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14, in the Mount Carmel School Performance Hall, Hamlet marks the 18th production by the school's Theatre Club. "It's a rare opportunity for the island community to watch one of the greatest plays ever written," according to Hamlet producer and director, Galvin Deleon Guerrero. In addition to being one of the greatest, he notes, it is probably one of the most difficult to stage. Student director Caisha Sablan agreed. "I can't believe Mr. G said yes when we asked him if we could do this play."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

03 Will Houston

Hamlet played by Will Houston
Directed by Michael Mundell

This is the first time I've seen the 'To Be Or Not To Be' speech with Hamlet standing on the edge of a cliff thinking about jumping in. At least I don't think I've seen it before. But that reflects this production overall, a grab bag of moments which seem very familiar, and not just because it's an oft produced play. Perhaps there are only so many ways you can present certain scenes.

This is a bit of an oddity. After looking about online I've found that this production was created for the education market. Which is possibly why it feels like a greatest hits of the play rather than an attempt to tell a cohesive story. The big moments for me such as the appearance of the Ghost and the set up for The Mousetrap are textually given short shrift whilst not a solliquey is lost. Some scenes end mid-speech with the characters walking offscreen or by simply cutting away. It generally doesn't feel like it's telling the story -- there isn't the emotional punch which the really good productions can give even though we've heard the dialogue and know the story by heart.

Under those circumstances that in the end Will Houston's Hamlet turns out quite well. He starts the play totally mad, in high pitched Berkoff mode all gestures and squeeking, looking upon that Ghost as being perfectly normal, almost as though he'd been waiting for him to show up. But during the flow of the play, Houston slips towards the sane with a slight glint in his eye that actually its the rest of the world which is insane.

He is hampered, though, by the production. Shot on video on location in Peebles and Stratford it seems to have been recorded in sometimes tiny spaces using a multiple camera set up. In places this means the framing is in entirely the wrong place for key moments -- we see much of Ophelia's madness in the bottom right of the frame hidden behind the back of an actor and a table. It's not a stylistic choice, it's just that the camera couldn't get there. Also, what's happening with the ghost? Someone's obviously found a setting on the camera which renders the picture through filter creating an outline effect -- it robs Hamlet Snr of his dignity.

The sound is extremely off putting in places. The producers have chosen to use the dialogue recorded 'on the day' which is fine, even if it means some of it sounds like it was recorded in a portacabin. The problem is that in many places the words are drowned out by sound effects dubbed in to create scene (crowds, or birds, or both) and the incidental music which comes along the point out when there is an important dramatic moment happening which we can't miss. Sometimes it's a bit inappropriate especially because it sounds like it's from stock and doesn't ebb and flow properly with the dialogue.

In the positives though, Gareth 'Blake's Seven' Thomas is a good Claudius (especially in the closing stages when it becomes clear that everything has gone horribly wrong), Lucy Cockram make a decent Ophelia and there are good performances throughout the rest of the cast, including Christopher Timothy's Gravedigger. And there are some lovely scene setting shots in the first hour of the film which have been recorded at some kind of medieval re-enactment day which are fun. It feels like a Doctor Who fan video - a group of people getting together to make a tribute to something they love -- at no point does anyone seem to be going through the motions and this generally sustains things through to the end.

I watched the dvd of this production on the 27th April 2005.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Lion King (1994)

Simba was voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas & Matthew Broderick; animated by Tom Bancroft & Dale Baer.
Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

On release, The Lion King was widely broached as being a departure for Disney -- it was their first major animated film not based on a particular source material, be it a fairy tale or piece of literature. Which in watching is only half-true. Whilst it doesn't directly re-tell a particular story, it does draw on a number of elements, including Disney's own Bambi and particularly visibly, Hamlet. Except with Lions.

Almost. The story is superficially similar -- a king murdered by his brother who steals the throne but is eventually revenged by the late king's son. But the action of the play is shaken up, the elements moved about for the purposes of expressing different themes and creating an ending which while not completely happy, is certainly more positive than the mass slaughter which occurs at the end of Shakespeare. For example, the late king, Mufasa does appear as a ghost to the young Hamlet figure, Simba -- but rather than explain how he died (something his son will have to learn later for dramatic purposes) he nudges Simba into following his destiny of taking over the crown.

The film is more concerned with telling a good story than directly referencing its sources. There is a moment when the Claudius figure, Scar holds up a skull, but it doesn't seem like a conscious homage. Similarly there aren't any noticable times when the dialogue parallels anything from the play, except perhaps 'To be or not...' (when Simba finds his life catching up with him in the plains) but that's more to do with these being universal themes rather than anything specific. Also Timon and Pumba, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a much great slice of the action, especially in the closing moments. We effectively see in the film what might have happened if Hamlet had gone to Wittenberg instead of hanging around the palace plotting revenge. Another what if built on here is the appearance of the Hyenas on the prideland which certainly smells of a successful invasion of Fortinbras while Claudius is in power.

The Lion King is a favourite film and I wouldn't want it to change -- the balance between tragedy and comedy is just perfect, as are songs, which are probably some of the best Elton John has written. In the interviews and commentary for the film on the dvd, you can tell there is a slight disappointment that the creators of the work couldn't nudge it closer to the Shakespeare. Certainly the original concept art was much bolder and starker. Was there a moment during the development when the script was much closer to Hamlet the play and how different would that version have been? Less songs presumably and Nala drowing in the watering hole. Which would be wrong, frankly. Still at least we can introduce the play to kids by saying ... "It's a bit like The Lion King only sadder..."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Short shrift

Michael Billington in The Guardian ponders the shortening running times of new plays and if this is having a detremental effect on quality simply because there is so much of a subject to fit into so little space that there isn't enough time to develop some ideas. As always he's generally right, although I am of the generation with a lower attention span. Interestingly he invokes a quote about Hamlet as a way of demonstrating how times have changed:
You can't, of course, simply re-create old forms: as Alain Robbe-Grillet shrewdly pointed out, Hamlet would not be a masterpiece if it were written today since we do not live in the age of the five-act tragedy. But the new, slavish obeisance to the 90-minute rule stems, I suspect, from a mixture of fashion and ignorance; in particular, a shocking unawareness of even the recent past when drama moved beyond a single situation or point of crisis to examine causes as well as effects.
That is a feature which I've seen drift away in modern theatre -- multiple settings. Some of the award winning recent plays, for example, Joe Egg have thrived in a single setting. But this has the effect of creating the feeling of sitcom. One of the reasons Hamlet feels epic is because of the sheer number and variety of scene changes.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Log execs: Visas crucial

I had to post this. It's an amazing way of introducing a pretty dry news story by invoking The Dane. What does the following have to do with paper pulping? "Had the fictional character of Hamlet been a Maine logging company executive rather than a Danish prince, his famous question may have been phrased a little differently: H2B or not H2B? Though it has had an effect on Maine's logging industry, the increasing scarcity in Maine of seasonal foreign workers available through the federal H2B visa program has not resulted in a situation as dire as that faced by Shakespeare's tragic figure."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

02 Simon Russell Beale

Hamlet played by Simon Russell Beale
Directed by Clive Brill

There are generally three approaches to Shakespeare (and theatre for that matter) on audio -- recording the sound of a theatre production, creating a film without pictures, or producing a textual adaptation, in which the performances take a back seat to the performances. There is obviously some blurring of these approaches, but Clive Brill's production falls completely in the latter camp. It's the full text presented in a way which can be both heard and understood. Even if it renders it a bit slow in places.

It was worth hearing though, because for the first time I actually understood the sections of the play regarding Fortinbras. When cutting the play for production for performance the Norwegian is often the first to go, because the main domestic plot can happily play out without him. Which means on the odd occasion he and his invading army appear, I've often had trouble working out what they're doing there. I now know that Fortinbras Sr challenged Hamlet Sr in battle and was slain. Now Fortinbras Jr is throwing together a band of men to invade Denmark, partly out of vengeance but also to grab back lands which have been taken. I think.

The highlight is inevitably Simon Russell Beale's Hamlet. Something of an unsung actor (who some might remember as Widmerpool in Channel 4's adaption of Anothony Powell's A Dance To The Music of Time), he does stamp his ideas on the part and you get the feeling he's been wanting to express these ideas for years. It's a very regal version and you get the feeling that he would much rather go to Wittenberg than hang around the palace and the inevitable madness which will follow. But when he has to take the lead his dives straight in, convivial and excited. The venom with which he aproaches his enemies, especially, wierdly Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who he has hardly any time for, fishing them out straight away) is excellent. You can see why he got the chance to repeat the role on stage at the Royal National Theatre in 2000 and a bit of a step up from second gravedigger which is the part he played in Ken Branagh's film version.

To be honest there are some pretty disappointing performances in here though. You would expect the late Bob Peck to inject some venom into Claudius, but instead he comes across as fairly pronderous, even generic, something that happens across the board. Perhaps the rule during this production was not to put too much of an interpretation on anything which might be fine if its to be used in study but does rather wring the passion out of it. Of the main cast, only Imogen Stubbs' Ophelia rises to the occasion, especially during her fall into madness.

The setting is simple, with subtle sound effects of wind or birds of echos depending on where the characters are. The specially composed music of Dominique Le Gendre is used to play in and out of scene and act breaks and although it's quite lovely, its deployment at times seems a bit random -- something booming before an intimate scene for example. Nothing earth shattering.

Which is unfortunately a good description of the production as a whole.

Listened to from a cassette on the 10th April 2005.

Monday, April 04, 2005

It is when Hamlet speaks to himself ...

Excellent Google Answer to the following question: "Taking into account the 16th and 17th Century English that was spoken in Shakespeare's time, (and using some of the suggestions shown in the following parenthesis), how do you perceive Shakespeare's ability as a writer (use of vocabulary, figures of speech, sense of dialogue, appropriateness and effectivenes of soliloquies, rhythm, use of blank verse) and as a composer of plays (plot, tension building, suspense of plot, climax, comic relief) when referring to the script of his play Hamlet?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

01 Nicol Williamson

Hamlet played by Nicol Williamson
Directed by Tony Richardson

The opening moments in any production of Hamlet are critical because the audience, assuming they know the play fairly well, will already be asking the 'How are they going to do...' question. It's the ghost. Hamlet senior. What is he going to look like? In a film, it's an even bigger challenge, because some people watching might expect a special effect. The approach here is a shot of bright light across the young Dane's face and his voice echoing through the frame. The style of the film is already crystallised. It's not about the surroundings or set dressing. It's about the emotion of the piece, the words. In this key moment we are looking in his eyes as he hear's his fathers words, and that's a device used throughout the piece.

On first appearance, Nicol Williamson might seem a bit old for the part. Certainly, I've seen Claudius's who look younger. But that does a disservice to his performance, which commands every scene he appears in. His Hamlet is far from mad; he's using a bluff technique to search for the why's of his father's death and how he's reacting to it. Unusually. in the intimate moments, during the soliloquy's he's at his most vulnerable, as though he's unable to come to terms with these feelings, and only really comes to life when he has someone to relate to.

A very young looking Anthony Hopkins makes a compelling Claudius, who with his gluttony seems like a man who could do wrong. Equally Judy Parfitt passes the test of being attractive enough for a man to kill for even if her skin is worryingly grey. Although not at grey as Ophelia, played by Marianne Faithful who in some shots looks positively black and white, almost as though the trickery of the film 'Pleasantville' had been used. Which is a shame because it detracts from rather a good performance.

The production was filmed at The Roundhouse Theatre which explains that use of extreme close up and the complete lack of establishing shots. The lighting absolutely picks up the actors faces, making what settings there are perfunctory. It mustn't have been a very easy shoot -- most of the speeches and scenes are played out in one shots -- there is very little editing in places, which allows the text the breath. I've seen the play many times and it was a joy on this occasion to hear how much of our language found a basis here.

The main oddity this time are the supporting actors. This is the only Hamlet you'd expect to find Michael Elphick and Angelica Houston standing around in the background, along with Roger Lloyd-Pack popularly known as Trigger in 'Only Fools and Horses'. The latter is particularly distracting because his face is so familiar and he appears, not only as Ronaldo, but also as a player, one of Laertes friends and a miscellaneous bystander in the duel at the end. One man should not have that many different beards. Also worth noting is the approach to the credits at the end, which are spoken, in a style similar to Truffaut's 'Farenheit 451' over a shot of Hamlet.

I watched the dvd of the film on the 30th March 2005.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hamlet purists beware

Charles Spencer reviews Hamlet at the Royal Theatre in Northampton: "Unfortunately, Jane Birkin, still best known for her orgasmically breathy performance on Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je t'aime moi non plus', is a dreadful Gertrude. Still blessed with the ravaged remains of a once considerable beauty, her inexpressive little voice, mannered hand gestures and habit of squinting myopically at whoever she is addressing as if she has just mislaid her specs becomes a real test of the viewer's patience."

Classic Stage Explores Each Act of Hamlet, With Varied Directors and Actors

"an exciting new theatrical experience in which a company of distinguished actors and directors work through and explore each of the four acts of Shakespeare's masterwork in front of an audience," according to the announcement. "Audiences will have the chance to become part of the discovery process of the richness and mystery of Shakespeare's text, as they experience different Hamlets, through varying interpretations and actor and directorial choices."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Stylized madness: 'Hamlet' for the 21st century

"The first clue that director Dylan Lowthian's is a more comic "Hamlet" arises from the costumes, which are pantomime evocations of 17th-century dress. The dominant color is black. All the male characters are decked out in black Wellingtons (rubber boots, to the uninitiated), but Prince Hamlet wears a pair of black-and-white Converse (medieval basketball shoes). The black is accessorized by whiteface makeup, absurd white collars (worn by all characters but Hamlet) and, for the female characters, white pompoms."

Hamlet, thy name is madness

"Brun has the cast in very contemporary costumes, including camouflage wear for guards, Queen Gertrude in a First Lady type suit, Hamlet and his buddies in classic college duds, and two other women, Rosencrantz (Teddy Minford) and Guildenstern (Anja Sundali), in no-nonsense pant suits."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hamlet's Cat's Soliloquy

"To go outside, and there perchance to stay
Or to remain within: that is the question:
Whether tis better for a cat to suffer
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather
That Nature rains upon those who roam abroad,
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet,
And so by dozing melt the solid hours
That clog the clocks bright gears with sullen time
And stall the dinner bell .... "

[via Sore Eyes]

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Going Awry On the Oscars

"Lisa de Moraes's March 1 column on the Oscar telecast was amusing and informative, but I protest her characterization of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as "the drivel you're forced to memorize in school."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

This Is How You Remind Me Of Hamlet

"iTunes was set to random and I'm just lying on the couch re-reading a couple of scenes from Act III. Up pops Nickleback's "This Is How You Remind Me," because while I may have made fun of the band awhile back, I still kinda dig the song. In fact, I've heard it many, many times -- yet tonight the song changed: somehow I heard Hamlet singing the song."

Why doesn't Hamlet kill his uncle immediately after his father's visitation?

"Hamlet is a momma's boy. His concern throughout the play is not primarily on avenging his father's murder, but on chastising his beloved mother. From the beginning, Hamlet is more upset about his mother's hasty remarriage than about his father's death. In his first monologue (I . 2 : 129-159), wherein he reveals the cause of his despondency, Hamlet speaks almost exclusively of his mother's crime, famously noting, "frailty, thy name is woman." And when, in response to his father's charge, Hamlet turns his attention to thoughts of revenge, he first exclaims, "O most pernicious woman" before thinking of his uncle (I . 5 : 105). It is his mother's crime that weighs most heavily on his heart."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A meditative 'Hamlet'

"This is most certainly a production worth seeing. In the intimate Black Box Theatre, you feel as if you are part of the story, as these very talented actors bring to life a challenging script. To make the production as true to Shakespeare's intent as possible, Borgers has even chosen the script from the Second Quarto, which is considered the most accurate publication of the original play."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

To be Shakespeare Shakespeare or modernized Shakespeare: That is the question.

Robert Croghan designed the bland, faux-marble set. A humongous wheel thingy hangs from the ceiling during the final scene. Swinging back and forth (unintentionally, methinks) on Friday night, it looked like it was about to crash to the stage and gore poor Hamlet. That would put a daring twist on the play, come to think of it, though it would mean it could run only a single night.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

To be or not to be, or why Hamlet is the most relevant play to modern times

What should he do? Should he listen to his heart, his superstitous visions of his father? Are they fanciful delusions telling him only what he wants to hear? How much easier would it be to ignore them, to pretend that all is as it should be? Not only could he protect his life and limb, but also the comfortable lie he has lived for a lifetime. For that matter, could it not be the truth?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

'Fortinbras' puts spin on Hamlet's legacy

This thoroughly enjoyable production starts with the final scene of Hamlet, in which the dying prince, surrounded by his dead family, implores Horatio to tell the world the truth about the tragedy. He dies, and at that moment, Fortinbras strolls in, planning to make a royal visit on his way home from the Norwegian war against Poland. Fortinbras learns what has happened and decides to take over. He orders the servant Osric to store the bodies somewhere and clean up the mess, then he can take over the throne and announce the tragedy to the people of Denmark.

Harrison Students Take on the Bard's Difficult Tragedy

"Always at this age, one of the biggest challenges is to find a way for kids to relate emotionally to what's going on. `Hamlet' starts at a bad place and just gets worse. There are four deaths in the last five minutes of the play. It has to tumble to this horrible end, and that's hard for kids," he said.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Merlin's mad minimalist magic

"But they had it easy. Jack Bennett plays Rosencrantz, a Gravedigger and Mercellus, while Alex Woodhall tackles Guildenstern, Barnardo and the other Gravedigger. The two actors also share one of the props I forgot to mention earlier, a pair of spectacles. The doubling and tripling of roles is particularly hard on the actors, who have to move swiftly and at times seamlessly from one role to another. It is certainly ambitious, but by and large it works. I saw the play on the second night when, as is often the case, the pace was somewhat lacking. My colleague Eszter Balázs had seen it the night before, however, and said it was spot on. "

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Even headed review of Olivier's film

In cutting this immensely long play to a running time of just over two and a half hours, Olivier and his screenplay collaborator, Alan Dent, eliminated some fairly prominent characters (notably Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras) and even sacrificed a couple of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquies ('O what a rogue and peasant slave am I' and 'How all occasions do inform against me'), and thus made themselves vulnerable to charges of butchering the Bard. (Olivier, in answer to such criticisms, took to characterizing his film as merely 'a study in Hamlet.')

Seems, madam! Nay it is ... Jane Birkin

Jane Birkin, whose croaked anthem Je t'aime (moi non plus) sent a million adolescents crawling towards their French dictionaries, will make a rare return to the stage next month, to play Gertrude in Hamlet for the first time - in Northampton.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hamlet revisited

"It is important that the task is done right, and to make sure the psychological journey of Hamlet is performed in a safe and trustworthy manner. There is no point in me making a 30-year old Hamlet: with my 24 years I can make the journey of an adolescent to a young man to a grown man," Gareth Taylor said.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Hamlet gets the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 treatment

"Servo: We win! We get any movie we want!
Crow: Mike, you're da bomb, man, what're you gonna pick?
Mike: Oh let's see, something I like. Let's say, say the greatest drama of all time. Pearl, send me Hamlet. With Ronna, Zepherelli, Olivie it's your choice.
Observer: Hamlet... German... Bratwurst.
Pearl: Hehe, perfect. You win, you get Hamlet. Oh boy do you get Hamlet. A dark, dreary, dubbed version made in 1960 for German television. God am I good."

Lost in translation

"This is perhaps what happened in the latest production of Hamlet, by The Actors Studio last week. It was staged in Bahasa Malaysia, and set in a contemporary setting (.22 calibres rather than rapiers and sabres). The fact that it was staged in Bahasa Malaysia seemed to have overshadowed everything else. And that's a problem when some of the actors seem to focus more on the language rather than the story itself. The result was like a pilot flying blind in the middle of a snowstorm, with hardly any contact with the control tower."

Branagh vs Zeffirelli

"The Zef. version is well, yes, crap when you try to compare it to the above. Yeah, where was Horatio (and, for that matter Michael Maloney, mikken?)? Where was the ghost's armour? Where was at least half the text, and the right order of it, and the sense of it? What was with Hamlet shagging his mother? And does anyone think Hamlet of all people would actually rip up a book, especially in Zef.'s pre-printing era setting? I can't be much more specific - I'd have to go watch it again and ... no. It's just wrong, and wrong, and wrong."

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Hamlet of Edmund Kean

(Hazlitt): Kean's surprise when he first sees the Ghost, his eagerness and filial confidence in following it, the impressive pathos of his action and voice in addressing it, 'I'll call thee Hamlet, father, Royal Dane,' were admirable. Mr. Kean has introduced in this part a new reading, as it is called, which we think perfectly correct. In the scene where he breaks from his friends to obey the command of his father, he keeps his sword pointed behind him, to prevent them from following him, instead of holding it before him to protect him from the Ghost.

The importance of arts in the prisons

So Wilcox, a slender, intense woman in big glasses, and a colleague, Mary Ann McGivern, began making trips to Pacific, teaching acting and playwriting, respectively. "Manuel gave me no peace. He wanted more. After one performance he said, 'Well?' and I said, 'Shakespeare.' His eyes got big. I said 'Hamlet.' His eyes got bigger. And then he said 'Yes.'"

Hamlet Video International

How unrelated can a domain name usage be? "Established in 1986, Hamlet Video International Limited is dedicated to the design, manufacture and supply of innovative, high quality, cost effective monitoring equipment to the television broadcast industry worldwide, with concentration currently on both digital and analogue video and audio test and measurement."

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Hearing-impaired young people perform Shakespeare

"From the beginning, the boys seemed uncommunicative, but now our young actors are really inspired and seriously involved," said Asatiani, adding that the boys are very responsible, come to rehearsals early and often leave the theatre late, "they are so caught up with their roles that once, while playing, one boy began crying. They have very expressive faces and that's why we decided that while playing spectators will see them and not just their hands," she said.

Hyper Hamlet

" A cultural history of the play has to take into account the history of its text, of performance practices on stage and in reading, produced by what one may call, metaphorically, the cultural and political climate. Narratives, scenes, figures, phrases and ideas from the play entered the discourse of the moment, enhanced the play's cultural status as a classic, and in turn were fed back into the understanding of the play."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Half Moon Bay Hamlet

Klaus: Gertrude, I have to now why your son is acting strange.
Peter: I think your son is mad. He has no brains. All he wants is my daughter. You should send him away. Get him out of Half Moon Bay. Send him over the hill.
Gertrude: I can't. He's the only son I have.
Klaus: It would be better for us if he leaves. It would be better for him, too.
Peter: I will spy on him for you to see if he really is upset about Ophelia or if he's having problems with drugs.
[Developed by the students in Ms. Lunstroth's Senior English Class] [via street computing]

Me: the entire play?

"I just had a patron call and ask me to print out "Hamlet""

50 Book Challenge: Hamlet

"During this play, it felt as though Hamlet could to nothing but wine/bemoan his existance. Even from the very beginning - before he learns of his father's murder - he is considering suicide. Yes, his father is dead and his mother married his uncle not long after, but GET OVER IT."

Alas, 'Hamlet,' you're a shadow of yourself

Wierd editing at a production by the Keyhole Theatre Company at the Josephinum, North Oakley: "And don't blink, because you'll miss some rather key moments, including the all-important "Mousetrap" scene in which Hamlet catches the conscience of the king. That's right. It's not there. This is one of the most bizarre decisions anyone could make, as it's one of the few moments in which Hamlet decides to do anything. Most importantly, it's the scene in which Hamlet lets Claudius know that someone knows how King Hamlet died. Without this scene, we forget about Hamlet midway through the play and begin to focus on Claudius (well-played by Kyle Lemieux). And rightly or wrongly, we begin to sympathize with the false king, because in this version it's guilt, rather than fear of exposure, that inspires Claudius to pray."

Make time for 'Times Like These'

New piece features unusual play within a play which sounds like Shakespeare meets Mel Brooks: "Dressed in the uniform of the SS, Oscar portrays Hamlet as a power-hungry, unstable individual who is not to be trusted. Ophelia becomes a stand-in for Germany, who is victimized by false promises and Hamlet's abusive behavior. Though the outcome is inevitable, playing out their hopeless scheme adds tension to the play and unites the audience to their cause."

Public Theatre of Kentucky presenting Shakespeare tragedy

Lanham's love of Shakespeare began last fall when he performed in a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at Western Kentucky University. 'There are several parts in 'Hamlet' that I would have liked to play. I love Shakespeare,' he said. 'He's one of the few writers that directs from the grave. You can find out everything about a character in the lines that are spoken.'

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hang on, didn't you?

On my home tonight a woman came and sat on the seat across the isle away from me. I spent some of the journey trying to remember were I'd seen her before. Then as I was getting up to get off the bus I noticed she was standing in front of me and that I knew who she was ...
Me: Can I ask you a completely random question?
Her: I you like.
Me: Did you ever play Ophelia in Hamlet at the Unity Theatre?
Her: Ooh err. Yes. That was six years ago ...
Me: I have a good memory for faces and ....
Her: You would have seen me completely mad and singing ...
Me: I just thought you were really good.
Her: (laughing) Thanks very much.
We parted company after that, walked our separate ways.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An adaptation completely in Bahasa Malaysia

"Hamlet in Bahasa Malaysia is much more interesting than the original thing. It didn't sound like the bad dubbing that we usually get in (non-English) foreign-language TV series like Maria Mercedes and such. In fact, the language made Hamlet more accessible and closer to home. Sure, Yap does speak with a Western accent, but some Malaysians do speak Bahasa Malaysia like that. "It's not as hard as I thought it would be. I was Malay-educated," said Yap. "I just have to do it over and over again."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Altonaer-Theate production reviewed by Lars Oppermann

Interesting approach to the soliloquies: "A more questinable choice was to have parts of Hamlet's monolouges replayed from a recording as to present them as a sort of 'inner dialouge'. Combined with the fact that the ghost of the dead King does not appear on stage but is rather spoken by Hamlet too, things might become a bit confusing. While the original play Marcellus and Horatio are wittness to the 'Imagination', it's all in Hamlet's head now. This fits quite well with the audience not bening in the clear about Hamlet's mental state at all times though it gives too much wight to the possibility of him being truely insane rather then pretending it."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Student strikes proper prose as Hamlet in Maui

"A Lahainaluna senior playing Hamlet in a scene where he is debating whether to kill his uncle, King Claudius, who is the murderer of his father, won over the judges in the local round of the English Speaking Union 2005 National Shakespeare Competition."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Olivier Awards Nominations

... and Ben Whishaw's youthful Hamlet at the Old Vic is nominated in the Best Actor catagory.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Skinhead Hamlet

"Our hope was to achieve something like the effect of the New English Bible."
[Well, there is some swearing.]

Hamlet The Text Adventure

"I am in my bedroom in the palace. There is a four-poster bed, and not much else. A portrait hangs on the wall. An exit leads north."

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Why Hamlet? Because everyone should have a weblog.

Yes, that's an oversimplification, but really it's difficult to put into words why I'm writing this without it sounding mildly to maddeningly pretentious. So forgive me if I stray into that territory. Believe me you were lucky. I nearly tried to write this in blank verse.

I was watching a documentary the other night called 'Playing The Dane'. It was from the early nineties and featured the talking heads of a diverse series of actors from Stacey Keach to Kevin Kline to Christopher Walken talking about the time they appeared in a production. The closing To Be Or Not To Be montage is on the BBC website.

There was an excellent moment (a fragment which can be seen in this interview collection) were Sir Ian McKellan talked about the man who bounded in his dressing room at the Cambridge Theatre and said 'Congratulations, you're my sixty-eighth Hamlet, and I remember something about every one of them. When Maurice Evans played it, he had a little hole in his tights here.' McKellan ponders what he remembered about his.

There's something really quite epic about that. What would it have been like to have seen so many actors set out to play the same role. Would they really play it in so many different ways and could you really remember the remarkable performances over the average, and indeed something about all of them? How would you feel at the end of that? Would it put you off drama for life, gain a greater appreciation, or would you at the very least feel as though you understood what the play was actually about?

Being up to a challenge, I've decided to find out. I'm going to see as many productions of Hamlet as I can before I shuffle of this mortal coil. I'll be seeing and hearing him in the theatre, on film, on tv and radio, on cd and even vinyl or cassette. Since that man's sixty-eight is the highest number I've even heard of, I'm going to use that as a guide, a milestone. From there to a hundred and then who knows? There won't be any time limits though, sanity being a premium and money being an object. The only rule being that a performance will only count if I've seen or heard it from start to finish through a whole production. If the actor's going from ghost to jest to death, I'll be there with them. Also I've already seen about ten of them, and although I'll make a point of rewatching as many of those as I can, the theatre productions have come and gone, but I'll include them anyway.

I'll post reviews of each production as proof, and for memory, and keep a running tally.

Why Hamlet?

As Richard Briers said once when asked what Hamlet was about, he said 'It's about four hours.' That's the full text, with a quick intermission between for the actors to take a breather and for the audience to clear their bowels. Most productions are cut down to about two hours and it'll be interesting to see what ends up being cut most often.

Generally the only thing to stay in is the central story which runs thus, as told by the Wikipedia:
"Prince Hamlet, the title character, is the son of the late King of Denmark, who was also named Hamlet. He is charged by the ghost of his father to avenge his murder, which he finally succeeds in doing, but only after the rest of the royal house has been wiped out and he himself has been mortally wounded with a poisoned rapier by Laertes."
That's the arc of the character and it gives away the ending. But being a Shakespeare tragedy you knew everyone was going to die anyway so go with it.

What it doesn't do is express what a exciting multi-faceted story, multi-genre, narrative, thing it is. It's a ghost story, revenge drama, a love story, detective story, comedy, psychological study, sports drama, all drowning in the kitchen sink. No one is entirely as they seem and no one walks away clean. No matter who plays him, Hamlet is a gut-wrenching central character who you just have to care for simply because of the number of faces he has to wear for so many people; he's unremittingly human, a man who makes mistakes but keeps bouncing back. None of William Shakespeare's plays pulls in so many direction or is open to so many different interpretations. Some sections can be played as out and out comedy, or deadly serious -- and it can work both ways.

It's also oft quoted but simply because there is so much great language. Time and again, especially if you're listening to the full text, every day phrases and aphorisms will pop up during the play's nuts and bolts dialogue. But there are also some section of heartbreaking poetry. The Yorik speech for example, whilst edging into cliche though over mis-quoting is a perfect evocation of nostalgia but also out existence in the memories of others after death.

It's also flexible -- I've heard it turned into everything from a dance track to a folk song. References appear, well everywhere and it's been translated into a hundred languages including Klingon. There just seems to be so many other things to write about.

Why Hamlet? Because everyone should have a weblog.