Thursday, April 29, 2010

An American Writer's Perspective on David Tennant as Hamlet...and why every writer should see it

So little time, so much to say....

DISCLAIMER: Let me just say, upfront, that I am biased: I would pay good money to watch David Tennant and Patrick Stewart read the phone book. Seriously. I think I'd even pay to watch Tennant take out the trash for two hours. They both deserve credit for taking on such iconic roles--it's hard to add to Hamlet something new and refreshing--after all, he's character who has been constantly invented and re-invented throughout history.

ABOUT ME: I hate reviewers who limit things to an oversimplified thumbs up or thumbs down, or reviewers who have had little experience with theatre or acting (either watching, volunteering, writing or performing). So just to let you all know, I have a master's degree in English (though I'm sure some of my posts would make one question that credential), I have a BA degree from one of the top ten journalism schools in the country, two published novels ( NOT self-published), and I have received regional and national recognition for my writing.

I do this not to brag, but because when I say this performance rocks, I do know what I'm talking about. (And PHFFFFTTT! to those who want to jump my case for ending that last sentence with a preposition. Snarky Muse--I'm talking to you)

The quick 4-1-1 -- wow.

I loved the modern costuming and the use of mirrors throughout the play. My friend C, who is a community college professor, said this type of setting would make the play more 'accessible' to those who maybe are under the (false) impression that Shakespeare is dry and boring. I do hope that the Royal Shakespeare Company realizes that by doing this production, they have opened the doors for a lot of students of every age.

The use of mirrors is incredibly effective, in many ways, because we project onto Hamlet our own fears, ambitions and worries.

Okay, let’s just say this and get it out of the way: David Tennant was Doctor Who, and David Tennant is a hottie. Seriously. Blind people know this man is handsome. But I’m not going to gush, but rather look at his acting chops.

I think the biggest positive, is while so many of us were used to seeing him in the Doctor, that was furthest from my mind as I watched the performance: there was only Hamlet. Imagine playing such an iconic character as the Doctor---which is an intregal part of British cultural history---and then playing an iconic Shakespearean character who has perhaps the most famous lines in all of literature.

To give my fellow American friends a bit of perspective, Doctor Who –for lack of a better comparison—has had a similar cultural impact ‘across the pond’ as Star Trek has had here. [I know, bad comparison, but work with me here!] Of course, I’m very thankful that Dr. Who has a great fan base here in the States. And even more thankful for friends who have cable who tape it for me (hint, hint)

And yes, I do realize I am the only person in the 21st century without cable. It’s my line in the sand. That’s all I can say. If I had the History channel and Sci-Fi channel, I’d never leave the house.

Tennant’s eyes were incredibly expressive, and I think he did a brilliant job of really bringing even more to the screen the incredible depression Hamlet carries, and the angst that he believes the only way he can get justice is to commit murder. I particularly loved the “is he acting crazy or has he really gone crazy?” perspective.

Major praise goes to the cut away of Hamlet’s “home movie” [for lack of a better word] that he is filming off and on during the event. It is meshed and edited into the overall piece seamlessly. The security cameras almost gave it an Orwellian feel to it.

Tennant is a very physical actor—he uses his height and very thin frame to his advantage, appearing both at the same time elegant and awkward, clearly giving me the impression of a young man on the brink of becoming a true leader, only to have his entire world ripped out from under him.

Tennant is a powerhouse. It was actually the BBC production of "Recovery" I saw him in that made me realize how incredible he is---I mean, I knew he was good, but ---WOW.

This scene from Hamlet shows just how powerful his performance this scene, Hamlet comes to visit his mother in her bedroom--she expresses her concerns that he is going mad, and he confronts her about marrying his uncle so soon after the death of his father. Note the use of mirrors and the height / position of the actors [as will be explained in my Citizen Kane reference below].

I must admit that the BEST piece of brilliance about this production dealt with how the actors used the space around them. When Orson Wells did “Citizen Kane,” he wanted the camera to reflect the character’s relationship—i.e. if one character towered over another, if one character was on the ground, if one character’s face was hidden—because he believed you should be able to watch the movie without the sound and be able to clearly understand the relationship wit the characters.

This becomes even more intensely effective in Hamlet.

If I have one minor fault with it is that the final scene, where some of the characters died [oh come on, do I really need to put a SPOILER alert with bleeping HAMLET?] it seemed to come off as a tad melodramatic—but then, having four characters die in the scope of such a short span is melodramatic, and I confess, I’m rarely comfortable watching actors ‘die’ onstage. I’m not really sure why. Seriously though, this is me being majorly picky [and may just be in the mood for missing my deadline [see earlier post.]

Why should writers pay close attention to Hamlet? Because Hamlet is both blank and multifaceted, he is both deep and shallow, eloquent and stumbling. Shakespeare has created a character that, as I mentioned earlier, serves as a catalyst to allow ourselves to project our own feelings onto him. Maybe this is just an American perspective, but it seems I’ve seen a WWII Hamlet, a classical Hamlet, a Great Depression Hamlet, a McCarthyism Hamlet…I think he reflects an image of a national consciousness as well. When the whole Freud thing was popular, we had the incestuous Hamlet --albeit, not a concept I think is supported by the text, but is often accepted as the case. That’s why I loved the Gertrude scenes I’ve posted here. They were incredible intimate and sensual without being sexual.

Hamlet transcends time because he becomes – dare I say it—almost too real to the viewer, because he not only creates a cathartic feeling, but the elements of Hamlet that make us uncomfortable may very well be the same—but milder-- issues we are dealing with ourselves.

To summarize: If you want to get your class interested in Shakespeare—see it. If you want to see amazing acting—see it. If you are remotely a theatre/ writing major – see it. If you’re breathing—see it.

I will be ordering my DVD copy ASAP.

In short, Tennant’s Hamlet was just what the doctor ordered J

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