Tennant’s Super

Picture: RSC/Ellie Kurttz
Picture: RSC/Ellie Kurttz

I wanted to see David Tennant in Hamlet and I wanted to see it in Stratford, so after some gnashing of phone lines and flexing of plastic I was lucky enough to secure a seat for the last night.

A lot has been written about this production by people better versed in theatrical critique than I am, so you can read about those opinions elsewhere. Part theatre, part people watching and part spectacle it was exciting, interesting and I’m so glad I was there.

Yes, David Tennant is the best Hamlet of this generation. Is he better than Branagh, Olivier, Rylance, Whishaw or Burton? That’s probably the most luvvie pub debate of them all. Yes there were people there because of other things he’s done/doing, yes these people were exposed to Shakespeare for the first time as a consequence and that’s no bad thing. The cast was pitch perfect. The other sci-fi god Patrick Stewart was a great Claudius/Ghost, I already knew he had presence in spades (from Macbeth) and generous enough to let DT do his thing.

Patrick Stewart and Pennie DownieDavid Tennant’s Hamlet is intelligent, intense, witty, nuanced and agile. His agility in both body and mind roams all over the large set – a set that extended into the audience in Stratford (but not London). Here is an actor at the peak of his powers, needless to say he’s had a good couple of years. He’s rational and controlled when he needs to be. He doesn’t just shoot of of the handle and spiral out of control without a realistic justification.

Penny Downey is a sexy, elegant Gertrude; she’s seductive without being obvious. Oliver Ford Davies is a charming Polonius, warm and doddering, officious and interfering. Edward Bennet is a solid Laertes, it’s a tough sometimes peripheral role but he more than makes the most of it matching Tennant. Little did we know at the time that he’d go on to play Hamlet in the London production as an awesome understudy when Tennant injured his back.

Mariah Gale as Ophelia, Hamlet RSCThe other stand out or as they say ‘breakthrough’ performance was Mariah Gale. You may know her from Skins but her Ophelia was hairs on the back of your neck good. You don’t want your regular Ophelia to be embarrassingly kooky, you want her barking and uncomfortably mad and distressed. She delivers, I can’t wait to see her reprise this with more than a static stage to work with.

It’s a great and large company. The Players are fabulous, the final presentation is spectacular and for want of a better word very ‘modern’. I’ve got to mention the set. Access from all corners, also through the audience from almost every angle. It gives a proper sense of movement, departure, pursuit and location. A polished back floor is pliable and reflective, bouncing both the cast and searchlights around the arena. The back of the set is tall floor to ceiling mirrored panels revolving, revealing and framing scenes on the fly. It’s simple and yet very clever.

I know that the RSC has probably got more resources to bring to bear on a production than any other company in the World, it’s good to see them use it to deliver something as electric as this. Yes it has flaws but for once I just enjoyed it as a complete experience.

Since posting the above: They’re making this into a filmed DVD with BBC2, shooting on location at the moment. It will probably be the highest selling Shakespeare DVD for a very long time and stuff the Christmas stockings to overflowing. I’m sure the BBC’s accountants will be perchance dreaming come the new year.

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