Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

To be or not to be ....

Alas, poor Benedict, as HAMLET-mania grips the city. Back in the '60s and '70s and '80s we went to HAMLETs regularly without all this fuss. Of course it is all different now in the social media age. It is not enough to see HAMLET any more but one has to post selfies with the actor or even film clips of the stage production.  Benedict Cumberbatch, the current incumbent of the sell-out production at London's Barbican first had to announce that he would not be posing for pictures or signing autographs and tried to leave the theatre by different exits (just like Barbra Streisand did when she was doing FUNNY GIRL here back in 1966 - I know, as friends and I used to hang around the theatre trying to see her, being 20 year old autograph collectors at the time). One quite understand's Benedict's stance - the last thing you need after a marathon performance is having to spend an hour or so being nice and posing for selfies and having demands on your time when you just want to get home. Then last weekend he had to plea for the audience to stop filming him on stage, as seeing all the red lights was distracting him. The intrusivness of filming a live performance seems appalling bad manners to me, but then we are dealing with a new generation, perhaps unused to live theatre, and who have to film what they see to show their friends that they really did see it .... not much fun for the actors though. The play has not even opened yet, and runs for 80 or so performances.

Which leads me to all those various HAMLETs I have seen. Famous past Princes of course include Gielgud and Burton, Peter O'Toole for the new National Theatre in 1963, David Warner's gangly student prince. My first Hamlet was Peter McEnery at Leicester in 1967, when I was 21 - a thrilling production. Then there was Michael York in 1970, also at a provincial theatre (Leatherhead in Surrey) - I had the pleasure of talking to him about it some 7 or so years ago now. Alan Bates had a west end run with it in 1973 (with Celia Johnson as his Gertrude), and Jonathan Pryce was a sensational Hamlet at The Royal Court in 1980, with Jill Bennett (below). Then there was Stephen Dillane in the 1990s, and my friend Anne got tickets for the then hot Hamlet - David Tennant of DR WHO - in 2008, but he had hurt his back and we got his understudy, but it was a long ponderous production of 4 hours: we sat down at 7 and staggered out after 11 into a blizzard. Other notable Hamlets since then have included Jude Law, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale and Rory Kinnear. There has even been a female Hamlet: Maxine Peake. It is of course the role that challenges every actor of note, with that huge amount of lines and action including those choreographed swordfights before the Prince is carried to his rest ...

On film, I have 6 Hamlets: Olivier's towering 1948 production, and the great 1964 Russian one by Grigori Kozintsev with Innokentli Smocktunovskly, a mesmerising production   ---- Nicol Williamson was a memorable Hamlet with Marianne Faithfull and Judy Parfitt at The Roundhouse, filmed by Tony Richardson in 1968. I must watch the BBC version with Derek Jacobi and Claire Bloom, and then there is the Zeffirelli one with Mel Gibson with Glenn Close, Bates, Scofield, should be an interesting reading of the play, and Kenneth Branagh's all-star 1996 production, with Julie Christie as his Gertrude. So, lots of HAMLET still to see - just like that equally fascinating MACBETH where I have Ian McKennen & Judi Dench; the Polanski, the Welles, Nicol Williamson again for the BBC and the forthcoming Michael Fassbender ..... 

Meanwhile, good luck to Benedict and his current run. The reviews are now in and very favourable, but it seems a gimmicky production - this Hamlet begins listening to a Nat King Cole record ("Nature Boy") on a wind-up gramophone!. More on Hamlet at theatre label. 


  1. I do feel for Cumberbatch even though I'm not a big fan of his. Personally I say eject the bastards who don't have the sense or manners to know better than to try and film a live performance but I suppose the theatre can only do so much. The sad irony is that by distracting him they are damaging the very thing they've come to see and being rude pissants to begin with will probably bad mouth the performance afterwards as being less then they expected which of course they've caused by their inconsideration.

    I'm not a huge Shakespeare addict but I did love the Ken Branagh version with Julie Christie, Kate Winslet and that amazing cast with only a few mistakes in casting. How odd that a quality actor like Jack Lemmon was so wrong in it and yet a far less gifted performer like Charlton Heston made such a positive impression as the Player King.

  2. Well of course Lemmon would be all wrong in a period setting - did he ever do one? I don't think so, whereas Heston was of course perfect in those medieval settings, as he proved many times, and he understood how the period worked and how to wear the costumes.

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