The day finally arrived yesterday, Hamlet! We drove up to the mother-in-law’s, who lives a bit nearer Stratford than we do, deposited the kids, then was off to Stratford-upon-Avon, feeling rather naked to be bothout together, in daylight, without kids! It took a while for me to get into the groove of being kid-less, with the mother-in-law’s stairs, pond and cooking suddenly assuming monster like proportions in my head. But we wanted to get to Stratford early as the RSC had forewarned us about roadworks and we didn’t want absolutely anything to delay us.
As it happens the roadworks were in no way the worse thing we’d see that day in the Bank Holiday traffic and we got to Stratford in plenty of time. So we had plenty of chance to have a wander around; last time Mr. Lacer had been in Stratford was with school and last (and as far as I know previously only) time I’d been in Stratford was when I was in my twenties and on a course with work near Stratford and we’d taken the company hire car and gone into Stratford to look for . . . drum roll . . . an off-licence (it’s strange how now, when I’m still, relatively speaking, not long in my thirties, how my twenties seem such a foreign country now). So, we had a walk a long the river past some students performing The Merchant of Venice and through the town, we visited Shakespeare’s grave, which was in such a beautiful church and walked past where he was born, looking into some gardens.
Well, actually Mr. Lacer ‘wouldn’t let me’ have the postcards at first, as at around a fiver they were a bit steep and I was hoping the same photos would be in the program, which they weren’t (although there are some nice, if smallish, rehearsal photos). So I persuaded him to let me go and get them in the interval. The bag by the way has common phrase on invented by Shakespeare, like I didn’t know until I saw Hamlet that the phrase “Get the to a nunnery” was actually from Shakespeare, let alone Hamlet.
But I’m skipping ahead of myself a bit, we then made our way into the theatre itself which turned out to be rather impressive, specially considering it’s only a ‘temporary’ theatre whilst the rebuild the main RSC theatre. Apparently they had to build The Courtyard Theatre first before they started demolishing bits of the main theatre and the stage in The Courtyard Theatre, which they call the thrust stage (I think) is a prototype of what they’ll eventually have when the rebuild the main theatre and that thrust stage was fantastic. Jutting out into the body of the audience, there were walkways on either side for actors to walk up through the audience to get on stage and they actually ran around the back of the seating during the performance to change costume! The seats were reasonably comfortable (important considering the length of the performance) if a bit narrow, no chance for ‘personal space’ between me and the man I was sitting next to! We had seats in the stalls, right at the back but we saw everything and were reasonably close, the seats were actually elevated a bit, so no heads blocking the view. Obviously you could sit closer (if you’re prepared to pay that much) to get that little bit closer to David Tennant but I’m sure you would have got a stiff neck craning up at the stage so much and it would have been difficult to see the whole scene, specially if you were sitting at the side. The set itself was fantastic, with a shiny metal stage and a shiny metal back drop, two features that came into their own during the performance.
And now onto the actual performance. It started fantastically, with the house lights still up, a man dressed in a guards uniform came on stage with a big gun, as the audience at first continued talking, not realising the play had started, he prowled around the edge of the stage looking like he was willing enough to shoot some of us if we stepped out of line. Then the lights went out, all of them, including the stage lights and more guards came on the stage with just torches to light their way. The torch beam shone on the metallic stage and through beams of light into the auditorium, the mist machine was going full belt and it was all getting rather spooky when the Ghost appeared. Starting fantastically, right from the beginning, we then meet the Danish Royal Family, Claudius and Gertrude happy newly weds, whilst Hamlet sulks in the corner, dressed in immaculate evening dress, unhappy that his mum has gone and married her dead husband’s brother, barely two months since his death. Claudius and Gertrude try and tell Hamlet to cheer up and then they leave him alone and Hamlet breaks down, curling up in a ball on the stage, his grief so raw, David Tennant’s performance so powerful, that to me that scene actually felt uncomfortable to watch, like we the audience were intruding on Hamlet’s grief. Hamlet then finds out what really happens (I’m trying not to give away too many spoilers here!) and he descends into what his family thinks is madness, here there are actually some similarities between David Tennant’s portrayal of Hamlet and his portrayal of the Doctor in Doctor Who, there’s the same sort of physicality that he puts into both roles. But that physicality helped provide humour to the performance, alongside the excellent performance of Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius(Davies probably best known for appearing in Star Wars 1,2 and 3 and probably every murder TV show going) who was incredibly funny as the bumbling court dignitary, I’d never known that Hamlet was actually funny! Also funny was the great gravedigger scene, the prelude to ‘Alas poor Yorrick’, which featured a Yorkshire gravedigger digging the grave. But humour aside, Patrick Stewart was brilliant as the nasty Claudius and as the vengeful Ghost. I also liked Peter de Jersey, best known also for appearing in lots of British TV murder shows and Holby City, he was a brilliant Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal friend. In fact all the actors were brilliant and seemed most of them had all been in the same hospital / murder shows and Doctor Who!
The costumes were fantastic, mainly modern dress, I loved it when Hamlet appeared, now out of his tux, in a pair of baggy jeans and an orange T-shirt with a bodybuilder six pack printed on it and he looked kind of cute in the beanie, anorak and dodgy jumper. There were clowns in Tudor dress and paratroopers with light sticks, people coming down from the ceiling on ropes, loud bangs and flashes, rude jokes, just all so incredibly entertaining, on paper the playslength of three and a half hours (including a 20 minute interval), seems a danger of being interminably boring but it so wasn’t!
Back to the set, the set was fantastic, the metallic screens at the back turned out to be revolving through which occasionally the cast and alot of fantastic set came in and out, it was just fantastic, the whole thing, am I using the word fantastic too much, because it just was.
The final scene was umm, fantastic to, who knew David Tennant could really sword fight? It was incredibly convincing. When the play finished the actors had to come on twice to bow, the applause was that strong and long.
Twenty four hours later and I’m still buzzing, I’ve seen quite a few Shakespeare plays in my time and that was honestly the best performance I’ve seen (and I’ve been to The Globe and The English National Theatre) and I’m not just saying it was because David Tennant and Patrick Stewart was in it. I have a feeling that Shakespeare would have been very very pleased, the performance was just pure entertainment which is what Shakespeare wrote it for. Performances like that make the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare seem even more pertinent, a campaign to make Shakespeare actually performed in schools instead of just dryly read, any kid would love to see Hamlet performed so well. The whole thing has just made me want to see so much more Shakespeare, sadly this was the first stage performance of any kind (if you discount kids theatre in libraries) that I’d been to since becoming a mum nearly 5 years ago, in fact I think the last thing I saw, whilst pregnant was actually Patrick Stewart in Ibsen. And it’s sad because we just don’t have the time or the budget or the babysitters to see more but I definitely want to at least go back when they’ve finished rebuilding the main theatre.
After the performance we of course did make our way to the Stage Door, along with seemingly every hot blooded female and her boyfriend. David Tennant came out quite quickly and autographed some programmes (not mine *sob*, mine was the next one ‘in line’ but he stopped signing and walked back in). But I got a photo!
The crowd then dispersed a bit after that but there were still quite a few people waiting around for Patrick Stewart, even if some of the people in the crowd were admitting it was “for their mum”, but he didn’t come out! At least not whilst we waited there for 20 minutes. We could see that the actors were actually signing out just inside the stage door and then leaving through some other exit. So sickeningly other than obviously seeing Patrick Stewart on stage, I didn’t seem him in ‘real life’ although Mr. Lacer did, at least he thinks he’s pretty sure he saw him, it was when we were walking to the theatre earlier that day, a bit before the performance, it was a bit crowded on the narrow footpath and I could hear this man coming towards us going “mwah, mwah, mwah” in this deep resonant voice, although me being a Londoner my instant reaction was “uh oh, nutter” so I didn’t turn to look at him, whereas Mr. Lacer did and he’s pretty sure it was Patrick Stewart, he must have been warming his voice up before the performance.