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Saturday, September 13, 2008
The Courtyard Theatre: 05 Sept, 2008

Now that is an antic disposition...

Before I indulge you with my review of DAVEY T et al in HAMLET, I would like to take a paragraph, or so, to contextualise and calibrate my relationship with BILLY S and his work. Long time readers (of this blog) will know I did a course on some of his oeuvre last year as part of my Uni work. It lasted a full term and I fear I will never get that time back again (12 effin' weeks!) - the course was tedious to say the least. To say the most, it made me feel like taking my tits, putting them in an oven and then grating them onto some dog~muck. Not a fan.

What no converse?

But, I do enjoy some of his work. In fact, some of it is bloody fantastic and that's what I'll concentrate on here and in my next post concerning a performance of TAMING OF THE SHREW at the same venue (different night, though). I studied Hamlet at school (along with a number of other of his plays) and it really struck a chord with me - must have been the disenfranchised youth in me (not literally). When KENNY B released his epic cinematic version of Hamlet, back in in the Nineties, I was very much enthused by it, even if he was too old to [Uncle Monty] play the Dane [/Uncle Monty].

Here, hare, here...

And so last year, whilst doing my Shakespeare course, we were treated to two weeks on the tragedy (all the others got just one) although a lot of that was on its criticism (not in the pejorative sense) of the play. That's when I got introduced to the 2000 version starring ETHAN HAWKE - not a very good film but a fascinating interpretation and re~positioning of the story. If you are in anyway interested in Hamlet then I would strongly suggest you catch that one (though don't pay for it). In fact, so 'interesting' was it that the director of the version under discussion here, GREGORY DORAN, uses part of it in his execution of the tale. But more of that later.

What's he doing here?

So, to recap in an irritating ITV way, I'm not really a fan of Shakespeare but there are some of his pieces which do stir my trousers, Hamlet being one of them - possibly, his 'best' if I may be so reductive to use one word to describe it. And, without wanting to toot my own instrument, I got a First for my work on the aformentioned course so I like to think I know some of what I'm talking/typing about. Yes, that's right - I'm boasting about getting a good mark. Right, let the 'review' begin....

Anything he can do...

I suspect that most of you want to know specifically what I thought of Davey T and his performance. Well, if you can hold on a few paragraphs, you'll find out. First, I want to bang on about how good the seats were! Four rows from the stage! Close enough to feel the spit; close enough to see someone's heels and corset (I'll reveal his name later); and close enough to see Davey T's pants [UK] when he sat on the floor. Calvin Klein in case you were wondering. The intimacy of The Courtyard is quite breathtaking with the audience surrounding the cast for the most part during the performance whilst the actors exit the stage in a number of directions through us. It was a new and incredible experience; I mean, Shakespeare isn't meant to be this engaging!

I think that's what known as cocking a snoot...

Not only that, but these guys don't really believe in scene changes either. One scene bleeds into another - mimicking television/cinematic grammar - and one quite forgets that 'normal' stages have a curtain to hide the 'magic' of the theatre. Here, it is actual magic as one set of actors exit and another ebulliently trundles on. The use of the space (I won't damn it by calling it something so mundane as a 'stage') is remarkable with the mirrored backing belying events that take place before (and sometimes behind) it. The first scene is a statement of intent by the director.

That's right, the Page 'Boy' was the voice of The Gelth.

We find Horatio and the guards with torches (battery operated - yup, that's right, this is an almost contemporary version), reflecting off the floor and backing, seemingly sighting a ghost. I say 'seemingly', they actually do. The ghost in this production is real - not imagined or metaphorical. A bold move indeed. And this is where I realised that I was in for, what's commonly known as, a 'treat'. During the confusion of seeing the ghost of Hamlet's dad, a number of other actors appear dressed as PATTY S and exit the 'stage' in various directions, so the original is lost. Great start and it just got better (baby).

Star Wars VS Star Trek

I mentioned Patty S there and I'll stick with him for a mo'. Whilst I feared that I would not be able to shake the memory of his high~larious scenes in EXTRAS, I needn't have worried. His skills are masterly, completely dissolving into the character of Claudius. He appeared to have a bit of a cough on the night I was there (which he alluded to in the Q&A after the show) but he used it to great affect - like it was an illness overcoming him, imitating his guilt. Top marks to the Patt~ster. And I feel I can now reveal that it was he that was spotted wearing some nifty heels (or 'lifts' as they are known) and a corset on stage.

He's thinking, "Check out those empty seats, I thought I was popular!"

On the whole, the cast impressed greatly. The chap playing Horatio, PETER "de" JERSEY, deserves gold stars for his incredibly lurving and sympathetic friend to Hamlet and, in the latter's death scene (sorry if that's blown it for you but this story is over 400 years old), there was some suggestion, to me anyway, of their companionship being more than just chums. Likewise, Hamlet's relationship with his mother was physical (if brief) and hinted at more on both their parts. GERTRUDE was played with incredible heart by PENNY "She's Australian, Apparently" DOWNIE; not to mention sadness at the woes that surround her (by her own making, it must be said). And so to everyone's favourite (well, nearly) Time Lord.

Cheer up darlin'!

There's a moment, during his 'madness', when Hamlet is carted off~stage (as they say in the 'biz') in a wheelchair and Davey T is heard, tinkering with the original text, hollering "Wheee!". Now that's a little too close to "Squee!" (if you don't know the relevance then don't worry) for my liking but it was an interesting addition. As were his mannerisms which crept in, notably in the more comedic moments (of which there were a few, surprisingly). The Scotsman rejected his own accent in favour of a more old~fashioned Anglicised mode than we are used to from him. Having seen MICHELLE GOMEZ use her own Scottish voice the following night in the aforementioned Taming Of The Shrew, I feel it's a pity Mr Tennant didn't follow suit as she managed to use it with great affect. Still, a small point.

I think, in the wild, that's known as 'presenting' ...

His voice is tenderly light for many of the opening scenes, giving off the impression of a slightly fey and needy man. Not great qualities but, then again, Hamlet is not a great man (as he admits). Physically, Tennant uses the space like a prop - he is always in command of it. Indeed, at times, he uses his fellow actors as props - notably the females, his mother and Ophelia; banging them about like dolls. There's not much wrong with his performance and Davey T is to be congratulated heartily in shedding The Doctor to become The Dane but, in such a strong cast, I cannot honestly say he was best of the players (if there is such a thing) but he does receive the most attention (both in the play and by the audience) so he gets a See Me After Class just for learnin' all those effin' lines.

To Squee Or Not To Squee

Personally, I think Hamlet should be played by a teenager (or someone in their early Twenties), for me it's the only way I can reconcile his descent into madness (whether you think it's real or not) and his unwillingness to accept his father's death. You can argue the point ad infinitum but that's just my 2 Euro. Older people usually handle death and heartache slightly better than The Dane does. Yes, some resort to revenge but would they use a traveling troupe of actors to instigate it? I don't think so. Anyway, I digress. I get the feeling that those seeking my Davey T opinions have probably moved on. In fact, if you're still reading this then you are to be congratulated as I think this is going to be my longest post yet. And I'm not nearly done!

Someone in the audience has just shouted, "Allons Y!"

Back to the cast. As I said, there's no real 'best' in this bunch - though the male playing Laertes was clearly out of his depth being surrounded by much more studied performances - but if I was to plump for one actor, it would possibly be OLIVER "Ford" DAVIES for his role as Polonius. He brings immense humour, even more so than Tennant, and warmth to the part with his bumbling ways and ramblings inciting much laughter from the audience. His death (again, sorry if you haven't seen it but come on, get an education!) was all the more sadder and I did hear a few gasps and emotive groans when he popped it. Elsewhere, and similarly amusing, was the Gravedigger played, in a Northern accent I might add, brilliantly and with clinical comic timing by MARK HADFIELD. A very memorable if, of course, short role.

They've both been in THE BILL - it's the original odd couple!

The role of Ophelia is a problematic one and I won't address those issues here. MARIAH GALE plays her with much gusto and the 'goodbye' (forgive my reductive scene rendering) scene with Lartes displayed a neat, sassy side to her characterisation with the introduction of a condom to the proceedings. But her genuine journey into mental illness, for me, was not as engaging or, for that mater, convincing. Dancing around the stage and singing may have been enough to convey 'madness' in the past but in this modern and dynamic production, Ophelia seems flat. Physically there's really no difference between sanity and insanity which is a shame as I felt this was the only negative point about Mr Doran's show.

This Austrian newspaper says our relationship is fine.

As a sidenote on the cast, and without belittling the might of Billy S, there were a number of DOCTOR WHO connections in there; most notably JOHN WOODVINE who starred in the 1978 'classic' (and by that I mean a turgid six~part story that dragged "The Key To Time" to a bewildering conclusion) THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR. Moving on. As exceptional as the cast are, the most striking element of this production of Hamlet is the direction and Gregory Doran should be manfully (or woman~fully) cuddled in a very real and meaningful way for his interpretation and stage~direction. I would add, however, that he seems to have stolen Polonius's death from the 2000 film version by Michael Almereyda. There, he is also hiding behind a mirror and he too is shot (rather than stabbed). A trifling point though.

I forget, which one of us is Magneto?

There were a couple of very intriguing edits made. Well, I say 'intriguing' - if you've never seen or read the play then they're meaningless. The rather tricky, and overly political, sub~plot featuring Fortinbras is not completely dispensed with but his summation at the denouement is abandoned - his troops merely appear at the finale. Later in the Q&A session, Oliver Ford Davies did discuss Shakespeare's "shortcomings" and specifically referred to Hamlet; citing the first few mentions of Fortinbras and then the character disappears for great chunks of the play, as if 'ole Billy S had forgotten about him (Oliver's words, not mine). I agree, it's one strand too many in already full cast of characters and clutters up the dialogue in the proceedings with needlessly political matters.

Appealing to the youth market...

The edits don't stop there. Normally an interval would take place at the end of a scene and, ultimately, an act but not here. We get an interval inserted mid scene and, in fact, mid~sentence. An audacious and breathtaking move but, by Gummi Bears, it don't half work. Such a surprise if you're familiar with the work and, if you aren't aware of the story, a great 'cliffhanger'. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet but full marks for ingenuity to Gregory Doran for spicing up an already murderously charged scene. One of the cast commented in the aforementioned Q&A that the idea of "what happens next?" may well have been used in conjunction with Davey T's association with a certain television show. Whatever the reason, it was tip~top move.

He's thinking, "How can I say 'country' in a rude way?"

Another shoehorned inserted edited comes in the middle of the word "country" (I think you can guess where) spoken by Davey T. Not sure whose idea that was but I'm sure a few fans were dropped and monocles smashed on its utterance. Sticking with the notion of editing, the Q&A session that followed the play consisted of a notable absence, Tennant himself. Although you could argue that such a role would drain a performer (especially the way 'ole Davey does it) it certainly wasn't visible in the standing ovation he received as he beamed widely that famous smile whilst bouding around the stage. No, I feel this was perhaps self~imposed exile from the proceedings. Rather than distracting from the session with fans clogging up the time with questions like, "Is there a toilet in the TARDIS?", he was generous enough to let his fellow players receive the attention they so deserved.

He's thinking, "Will Sio Bibble turn up in The Clone Wars?"

I guess you came to this paragraph looking for some final thoughts? Maybe looking for some stars to mark it "out of five"? Well, if I were so reductive, this RSC production would receive a full five skulls out of five. It's a shame that more people won't get to see it. The tickets for London have gone on sale and sold out as quick as you could say Raxacoricofallapatorius. I will add, in a very secret squirrel information type of way, that I overheard a discussion involving a member of staff who stated that the only 'thing' in the way of a DVD release was a producer - they need to acquire one. Simple as that! Anyway, as 'entertainment', this production of Hamlet was faultless and I cannot recall being so overwhelmed by a 'stage' event. Of course, this happened all over again the following night when I took in Taming Of The Shrew but that's a review for another day.

"If I use a new accent and different clothes, can I play The 11th Doctor too?"

'Til the next time,

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posted by Cameron McEwan at 7:03 pm -
  • At 10:35 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…



  • At 10:38 am, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Happy to share!

    Thanks for reading,

  • At 2:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Uh, Cameron? I posted two little comments, but none has appeared yet. Is it because you haven't approved them yet, or because I think I failed to check the "anonymous" button both times? If the former has happened, then please excuse and delete this comment, if the latter has happened and the comments are lost, let me know and I will post them again. Sorry, thanks and cheers! Arwyn :)

  • At 2:58 pm, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Hi Arwyn,

    Strange, I didn't receive your comments. Try posting them again.

    Look forward to your thoughts,

  • At 8:52 pm, Blogger Emm said…

    Nice review! I have tickets for 2nd January. Cannot wait!

  • At 9:30 pm, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Thanks, you're gonna have a great time. Coincidentally, I also have tickets for Jan 2!

    The stage in London is quite different so it won't be quite the same - not as intimate apparently.

  • At 9:51 am, Blogger Emm said…

    Oh yeah, I couldn't get tickets for the first showings in Stratford. But I joined the RSC and got tickets on pre-order so that was good!

  • At 10:06 am, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Yeah, I joined the RSC about a year ago for the sole purpose of getting Hamlet tickets in Stratford (at the time the London run was not confirmed).

    So glad I did!

  • At 10:24 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OK, here I go again, since my previous posts disappeared. I totally agree with your review about the play. Yes, Courtyard's stage is very warm and intimate, yes the cast is fabulous and the acting fresh, modern and the best so far. You said that Ophelia was a bit meh, but I liked her as well. Patrick Stewart did have a sore throat, poor man, his voice was hoarse. As for David, well, he was Hamlet, not the Doctor, not David, we were seeing pure Hamlet madness there.

    The Q&A was very interesting, lots of inside info and very friendly chemistry between the whole cast and cast and audience. I had hoped till the last minute that David would come just to say a few words, but as you said, he chose self exile for the sake of his fellow actors. I missed him, but oh well. Afterwards, my friend and me had a drink in the Dirty Duck pub, with the whole cast (minus David, Patrick and Penny) in the next table. We didn't disturb them at all, just flashed a couple of smiles to acknowledge them and went on babbling about the play in our own mother tongue, Greek. We must have seemed very strange to them, two foreigners who were obviously at the play and were then talking in another language, LOL!

    What else... oh, I looked around the audience for any face I could recognize from various DW fora, but I saw none, do you still look like your picture here? I would have loved to have said hello in person. I'll be in London in December 12th to see Hamlet again, can't wait! Yes, Novello will be different, but I'm curious to see how they will change their movements to accommodate the new stage. All in all, this Hamlet rules! Arwyn :D

    For full review, read my post here

  • At 10:38 am, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Works this time!

    I noticed Patrick Stewart was swilling some brandy in the Q&A, I'll assume it was medicinal!

    The Q&A was most enjoyable (even if Davey T didn't turn up - like you I was still hoping he would pop by to say a few words) and I could have listened to the guys chatting for a whole lot longer.

    I don't have a beard anymore and my hair is a lot longer than in the pic so that's probably why you didn't recognise me.

    I stopped by the Duck after Taming Of the Shrew on the following night where I spotted Michelle Gomez and her hubby Jack Davenport. Quite a sight!

    I also have tickets for London in January and I'm curious to see how it will differ - the stage is very different there.

    I'm not on the DWF anymore so I won't be able to read your review but I think we both agree "this Hamlet rules!"

  • At 12:26 pm, Blogger Emm said…

    I'm also glad I did actually. I was impressed by their starter pack and |I'll actually try to see other shows in future.

  • At 12:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If you're interested, I can copy/paste my DWF review here (quite long though), or email it to you. I'm not saying anything special, just the moments that stood out for me. Arwyn :)

  • At 1:49 pm, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…


    I'll definitely be going to more shows (regardless of who 'stars' in it) as my experience with Taming Of the Shrew was also excellent. I look forward to the new theatre opening in Stratford in 2010.

    Please feel free to post it here. I'm sure many other readers would be interested to read your thoughts too.

  • At 5:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ookay, Arwyn here, here's my record long review for all to read and enjoy! It's exactly what I've posted in the Doctor Who Forum:
    And now, my review. Well, not really a review, just scattered, random impressions and moments that I loved.

    - The Courtyard Theatre is indeed a lovely place. Very intimate, but warm, welcoming. You truly feel being part of the action.

    - The opening act really impressed me. The reflecting flashlights in the dark really made an eerie and frightening atmosphere.

    - When DT first walked on stage and went to stand on the side clutching the champagne glass ready to break it, I think I've never seen him on TV standing so still and yet so full of energy ready to explode. On one side we had a glamorous party, with Claudius and all so full of mirth and yet on the other side I could feel Hamlet burning. When he delivered his first line, I was puzzled by how different his voice sounded from the way it sounds on TV. Not basic tone different, but... I don't know how to describe it. It's the same, but yet different. It has to do with the way the actor projects his voice in order for all the audience to hear, the way the mouth opens and the lungs let the air out for the voice to form. I'm a very acoustic person, I have a musical ear and a love for voices. Looking at David and not hearing the voice I was used to was a bit disconcerting for a few moments, but soon I got used to it.

    - English is not my mother language. I'm pretty fluent, but not perfect, more so when it comes to Shakespearean language. However, this production of Hamlet has the best deliverance of lines I have ever heard! They don't recite, they say the words as if they are really their own. That for a non-British is a huge help.

    - What I can generally say is that the only thing that is 16th century is the play, the words. All the rest is modern, from the costumes to the sets to the interaction between the characters. It's a modern family using old words to tell their tale. The reactions, the nuances, the tension, the humour, it's all with the energy and raw emotion that we see in modern times. And as it was said by many audience members, the cast now owns the play so deeply, that they feel free to let go, to push it to the edge, to yell and jump and throw without holding back. The rough, raw way that Hamlet attacks his mother, his fake craziness, his pain over Ophelia's grave, it's all effortlessly and boundlessly given.

    - I never once felt that I didn't get the emotions of the play. I did fail to grab the meaning of some lines (the non-British thing), but the emotional part was right there to grab and hold. I watched the actors and read the play on their faces when I didn't get their words.

    - My most favourite little moment of the Friday Sept 5th performance:
    In the closet scene, after Hamlet has confronted his mother, the two then share a hug, Gertrude sitting on a stool and Hamlet sitting down. It's a scene that official photos even have. After the hug (which I was told was particularly fierce and long this time, in comparison to two other days), Hamlet/David is still sitting down delivering his lines and, in a spontaneous gesture of the moment (i.e. my friend said he didn't do it the two other times she saw the play), he begins to play with and twirl with his fingers the hem of his mother's silk pyjama trousers' leg for a few moments. For me it was such a sweet gesture, so childlike, so natural. We all finger things from time to time when we are in thought, lazy, or nervous, or embarrassed. At that moment, Hamlet was just a little boy at his mum's feet, clutching her clothes as children do. I absolutely loved it!

    - I was especially blown away by two differences between this Hamlet and the Olivier/Branagh/Gibson versions:

    One, in this version, Gertrude knows that the wine is poisoned and she chooses to drink it. She has understood that Hamlet's been framed, that Claudius is behind it, so when Claudius pleads with her to not drink, she gives him a knowing look and she deliberately drinks. My jaw dropped on the ground and I began to wonder if I had imagined it, only for Penny Downie to confirm it the following day in a talk for RSC Friends.

    Two, Hamlet does not throw his sword and stab Claudius, nor does he force the wine down his throat in fury. He points his sword at him, in all fury and daring him to deny his guilt, and Claudius accepts his guilt, cuts his hand on his own on the poisoned tip of Hamlet's sword and then again drinks the wine Hamlet offers on his own, accepting his fate, in a way committing suicide. I could talk and talk and talk about the meaning of these actions, but I think I'll leave it for later.

    - I've read somewhere that the ending seemed rushed. Yes, I did end up expecting/wanting more, but then again the more gets cheesy somehow. In the Olivier/Branagh/Gibson versions I felt that the heroes took way too much time to die, all babbling silly "I die, I die, I die". In this version it's more... simple, matter of fact and natural. They don't spasm, cough, whine, spasm, cough, whine and then die. They smoothly fall to the ground, realize their coming death and let go. David's Hamlet fell nobly, almost with wonder, sadness and quiet acceptance. No dramatic twitching, no stammering, his knees just buckled, he was caught by Horatio, lowered to the ground slowly and just lay in Horatio's arms feeling his life slipping away. And when he closed his eyes and we knew that he'd let out his final breath, David was so still, his face so loose in "death", that I gulped and shuddered. For a tiny moment, I was so seeing Hamlet in front of me, that I thought he had really died and would not get up again. I fought tears.

    All the cast was phenomenal. Each and every one of them. They clearly loved what they were doing and inhabited their characters completely.

    I don't know what more to say, except that I really want/need/have to see this Hamlet again. December cannot come fast enough. I know that Novello will not be the cosy, lovely Courtyard, but I simply have to see this Hamlet again anywhere! I rang a friend of mine in Athens who loves theatre and DT and told her "if you want to listen to me, GO!, risk it, go to the theatre very early, be first in the queue for returned tickets, and you won't regret it, DO IT!". The same goes to all of you here, you simply have to see this Hamlet!

    *** arwyn-t***

  • At 6:38 pm, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Some nice thoughts there.

    This HAMLET is very different in parts to previous versions which nly adds to its enjoyment.

    I agree with you on the ending, the deaths were well timed and Getrude almost robotic in her emotional state on discovery of the horror that faced her.

  • At 11:43 pm, Blogger joy said…

    Thanks for sharing all of your reviews.

    And, I'd love to see what Hamlet has done for the RSC membership. (I totally did the same thing and joined...just after someone at their box office mentioned the unconfirmed London run.)

    I'll be dead honest, though. I will be so very sad if DT doesn't show up for the Q&A in December. I love Patrick Stewart, but he's way more accessible (methinks) here in the US than DT is.

  • At 5:33 pm, Blogger Persephone said…

    Dear Cameron,

    Aside from coveting that shot of barefoot Hamlet (I don't know why I like it so much; I just do), I just wanted to register my regret over your closing of Blogtor Who. It seems a particular shame, in this long semi-drought period between proper DW seasons, to lose such an informative source. I don't know who has been pirating your pictures and clips, but I'm willing to bet that a number of them are extremely young bloggers and webhosts who don't yet understand about giving credit.

    Best wishes,

  • At 7:14 pm, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…

    Dear Persephone,

    Thanks for your very kind words and the revelation of your foot fetish!

    The problems has been ongoing for some time and the sites were not playing ball. It just got tedious contacting them all the time with no, or little, results.

    I am aware that the content actually belongs to the BEEB but when it comes to pictures that were either taken by myself (the recent Cybermen pics for example) or I was the first to share (The Stolen Earth promo pics for example), I get a bit miffed. So, I'm outta here!

    People will just have to put up with my opinions on DOCTOR WHO from now on!

    Thanks again for your support.

    Best wishes,

  • At 7:22 pm, Blogger Emm said…

    I'm also really sad about your departure. Blogger allows you to post for members only - perhaps you should just do a closed blog from now on? I'd respect your decision not to but I'd selfishly love for you to stick around.

  • At 2:57 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Cameron, I hope you will re-open Blogtor Who someday soon - it's so good, please don't let a few selfish bloggers spoil it for you and your readers...
    Hopeful-ly yours,

  • At 8:52 am, Blogger Cameron McEwan said…


    Thanks for your support. The reason I removed comments completely was because there were people posting SPOILERS which not only I didn't want to see but I didn't want readers to see either - whether they turned out to be true or not.

    Out of respect for the US and Aussie readers I kept them off as Series 4 broadcast later in those countries.

    Sadly, Blogtor is over for good. It was a decision taken over a period of time but there are other sites out there (though not as quick with the news or as good with the resources!).

    Thanks again,


    Thanks for your appreciation, it is much appreciated. Sadly, it wasn't just a few sites and, even more regrettably, they didn't respond to my emails.

    It was a fun few months and I apologise to the 3-4,000 that visited each day.

    Thanks again,

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