Posts Tagged ‘Hamlet’

Review – the “Michael Sheen Hamlet” (or, rather, the Ian Rickson Hamlet) – Young Vic

November 16, 2011

Who in the world buys tickets to shows eight months in advance? Well, if you’re like me, you will all the time if you want to buy them when they’re cheap – especially if it’s a show you’re worried will sell out. In this case, there was a hot tip on Twitter that the Young Vic had a great new production of Hamlet, directed by Ian Rickson (of Jerusalem fame) and starring Michael Sheen. A theatrical event, I thought, the sort of thing I did not want to be left out of – so despite not really knowing who Michael Sheen was (I apparently saw him in Frost/Nixon but forgot all about it), I went ahead and bought tickets in March for a show in November. And then waited.

November rolled around at last, and word on the streets was bad. First, 80% of my Twitter theater friends hated it (summary available on the As Yet Unnamed London Theatre Podcast). Second, the length was announced as three hours and twenty minutes. This is a problem, first, because it’s tiring: three hours is about all I can take. It’s also difficult because of the end time. While the Young Vic is one of the easiest theaters for me to get home from, given that my tickets were for a Monday, I was looking at setting myself up for a week of woe as I would be getting in a good half hour after bedtime. (Laugh if you will but if you see a lot of shows, exhaustion can be a real problem; I try to be really careful to schedule longer shows for Fridays and Saturdays.)

Third, the actual reviews, as they came out, were all over the place, but amongst the haters was some stunningly cutting summaries that just killed my desire to go. What was I to do with such mixed opinions? @weez said, “You must settle the controversy by going!.” So, despite the fact I thought an early night might suit me better (and getting the £60 I spent on tickets back seemed also very tempting), there I was last night, rushing in just before showtime and hoping the cold I had didn’t slow me down*.

By this point, it seems like there’s little for me to add to the reportage on this show. It’s set as if it’s in an insane asylum (a trope so original I first saw it in 1982 in an Arizonan “Coriolanus”), which works insofar as it makes the relationship between Hamlet and other characters a bit more fraught – Polonius (Michael Gould) is his psychologist, constantly taping his conversations, while Rosencranz (Eileen Walsh) and Guildenstern (Adeel Akhtar) seem far less greedy puppets sent to monitor Hamlet for pay but, rather, truly concerned friends who are frightened by his mental disintegration. It also enables some fun effects as people “watch” the patient behind the glassed off security zone (particularly painful in Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia), and affords some much more reasonable opportunities for people to overhear conversations (though for all of the patients to know they can hear what’s going on in the guard room simply by playing with certain switches stretches the imagination – even more so than what I needed to do to put meaning to Claudius’s garbled words).

But. Seriously. What does it matter if Hamlet is hallucinating the ghost, and seeing Polonius and even Ophelia come to haunt him, when we just care so little about what is happening on stage? Why was it I couldn’t make a connection with any of the characters? Did Sheen speak too fast? Did he fail to show fragility? Did none of the characters actually act like they had a connection with him, or each other, and did it seem, instead, like I was watching paid professionals go through their paces? Seriously, it is wrong for a production of Hamlet to reach an emotional peak when the aged player is reciting the tale of the death of Priam. Painfully, Ophelia’s mad scene was a horror of inappropriateness and unbelievability. Vinette Robinson never seemed to care particularly about Hamlet (or Polonius), so how could she have reached an emotional depth that would have caused her to lose her mind? Yes, she had a nice singing voice, but it was all so forced! As I sat there slowly readjusting my weight in my seat to try to alleviate the numbness in my bum, my soul was escaping from the building. There was some rock and roll, and an interval, and more flickering lights; I had little reveries of happy Hamlets of days gone by. And eventually it was all over. I know I’ll see a Hamlet that blows me away again; but I wish I’d sold of the seats to someone more easily impressed and instead spent the night with good friends at a bar rather than wasting it in this dessicated production.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, Novemeber 14th, 2011. Hamlet continues at the Young Vic through January 21st, 2012. Trust me, the play’s not the thing. However – see * – I did have good company for the show and if I’m honest with myself this is 80% of the reason why I went.)


Review – Hamlet (with Jude Law) – Donmar “West End” (at Wyndham’s Theatre)

August 22, 2009

The Jude Law Hamlet put on by the Donmar is, I think, the most-hyped show of this year’s West End season – sold out sooner than Helen Mirrim’s Phedre, source of more “guess how many foolish tourists were waiting in line for returns at God awful o’clock” jokes than Sir Ian and Patrick Stewart’s Godot, basically Hot Hot Hot at least as far as how many tickets people wanted and how few were available.

I knew about the show more than early enough to get tickets, but I didn’t buy them, despite the fact I think Jude Law is quite sexy, for three reasons. First, I have an annual Bard limit, and I just wasn’t interested in blowing it on yet another Hamlet. (The Donmar West End series as a whole was so very un-risk taking, except for the excrable Madame de Sade, and anyone with eyes to read the script with could tell THAT didn’t deserve a revival. Still, Hamlet, bah and yawn.) Second, the early reviews (such as the West End Whingers) weren’t very enthusiastic. And third, well, I just didn’t want to bother with this show simply because a cinema star had been cast in it to pull in the punters. I think this is poor practice as it results in shows being performed by people who aren’t really cut out for it, and a disappointing night out for me. Shakespearean actors who’ve made the leap to the big stage is one thing, but to be honest, the magic just doesn’t seem to work in the other direction.

And yet … and yet. I, too, apparently can fall prey to hype, and after a whole summer spent pooh-poohing the whole affair, I finally broke down when I saw it was being transferred to Broadway. “My God!” I thought. “Perhaps I am missing the show of the year” (a la Black Watch), “and even if I did make it to New York, I wouldn’t be able to afford it!” So I took advantage of my gardening leave and found myself a single ticket for a Wednesday matinee, and off I went.

Well, I don’t know if it was the fact I was seeing a show in the middle of the day or if it was because I was seeing yet another (yawn) Hamlet, but GOD was sitting through this play work. Law was waving his hands around like he was conducting an orchestra (causing me to laugh during his speech to the players, “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands”), and I found myself wishing the man who was playing the ghost, clearly a pro, was actually in the title role. The actors were in general serviceable, but in no way memorable, and I found myself yearning for the hair-raising brilliance of Stewart’s Macbeth. Really, must Shakespeare be so dull? Though the bit where Ophelia was being lectured by her brother and father on Hamlet’s lecherous nature provided some giggles, mostly it felt like the long-awaited end of a show that had just run out of energy.

At any rate, I can now say “I saw it when,” but to be honest I wish I could just say I’d gone to see a show I enjoyed instead.

(Hamlet closes tonight. Don’t worry, it’ll be done again soon.)

Doing the impossible: finding tickets for the Donmar’s “Hamlet” (with Jude Law)

August 17, 2009

You know, you go back to the Donmar West End‘s ticket site and over and over see “Hamlet is now sold out” and you call the theater and they say, “Oh NOES we has no tickets, please go wait in line in front of the theater with the other losers for a chance at standing through the show” (after standing in line for eight hours) and then you realize that YES you have magic and you say, “I shall call and see if I can get just a single ticket for the very last Wednesday matinee as I am free that day” and the lovely lady goes ahead and looks for you (as you have urged her to do) and LO there is not a sold out show in London that I have not been able to get tickets for yet and I shall see my cinematic idol performing the works of the bard before it goes to Broadway and for the mere price of £25 quid. And sitting down to book. Lo, truly, I am magic!

(Note: I’m pleased to see that they are actually going to make an effort, in the Donmar style, to keep this Hamlet affordable when it makes it to the other side of the pond. Pere Telecharge, regular price for evening tickets for this show in New York on a weekend is $251.50; weekend matinees are $226.50; otherwise it’s $116.50 and then the $25 tickets. I admit that part of the reason I am seeing it here, now, is because I am saving so much money over what I would be if I were seeing it in New York. That said, people who shop now for this show can get $25 tickets in the upper mezzanine; good on the Donmar for making an effort to actually let normal people enjoy theater instead of it just being a treat for the fat cats!)

1. Be flexible about the date you can go and number of tickets you need.
2. Call the house and keep checking on availability.
3. On the day of, it may pay to check several times a day, especially as it gets toward the end of the day.
4. Wheedle with the ticket staff to check.
5. Ask if there’s a waiting list and ask to be put on it.
6. Show up night of and get in line.
7. If you’re in line, have cash in your hand (and be ready to pay it out for the top priced ticket)
8. See someone looking like they’re going to sell a ticket and you’re in line? See if you can make eye contact with them and get them to just sell it to you, but be sure that if you do this, you’re buying a real ticket. You’ll make everyone else in line hate you if you effectively queue jump them, but hey, it’s a tough life and you’ll never see them again.
9. Matinees are magic because there are always less people looking to see those shows.

(Hamlet runs at Wyndham’s through 22nd August 2009, after which it moves to the Broadhurst Theatre in New York, from September 12th through December 6th. $25 tickets are available now, so don’t hesitate to buy if you’re hoping to see this on the cheap!)


Hot tip: tix available for Tuesday August 11th Hamlet

August 5, 2009

I’ve been frustrated by the sold-out-ed-ness of the Donmar’s Hamlet, but apparently there are about a dozen tickets available for next Tuesday’s performance (August 11th). I won’t be able to go as I’ll be out of town, but I thought I’d pass the tip along as someone is bound to want ’em …


Revew – The Revenger’s Tragedy – National Theatre

June 16, 2008

I am a big fan of the £10 series at the National – top quality shows at a quarter of the normal asking price! – so when I saw that tickets had gone on sale for The Revenger’s Tragedy during the week when my cost-conscious (read = OAP) uncle was coming to vist, I snapped up a set (though I went for £15 seats so that we could be a little closer to the action).

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a sort of anti-Hamlet, with a lead character who is hurting over someone’s death – and determined to make the bad guys pay. This leads to a bit of the silly identity-changing hijinks along the lines of some of the goofier Shakespearean comedies, but with a cast of characters which seems universally unworthy of any sympathy and the most sex and violence I’ve seen since Coriolanus – more, even. It’s kind of fun to see this group of baddies get their come-uppance, but without any one sympathetic characters it became more like watching Natural Born Killers or something of that ilk.

While the show was in no ways boring, it seemed to me like the director felt obliged to overdecorate it with fluff to make it “relevant to the modern audience” or something of the sort. Pounding techno, projections and depictions of people having sex, a woman leading a hooded man about on a leash, animated stage decor – was any of it really necessary? The text itself was pretty clear about what was going on, and clever to boot, but it seemed that there were doubts as to whether or not it could carry the story on its own. Me, I’d prefer less show and more tell. Overall, while this production wasn’t bad, I found it just didn’t capture my imagination.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, June 14th, 2008.)


Hamlet – Northern Ballet Theatre – Sadler’s Wells

April 23, 2008

I have to say I was a bit worried about how a ballet interpretation of Hamlet would come out. I’d gone to see Christopher Wheeldon’s “Elsinore” last year, and it just had no emotional power at all. How could such a neat tale, one of the most powerful tales in western literature, come off so damn flat? It almost made me feel like modern choreographers should just stick with plotless ballets. But since “Romeo and Juliet” is really so good, and I think ballet/dance really is good at story telling, AND I have this bizarre wish to see the repertory of story ballets extended beyond the old chestnuts (I mean, seriously, Matthew Bourne has done so well – with retreads), that I just queued right up for tickets for this show, based simply on a desire for wish fulfillment. (And right beforehand, I turned to J and said, “God, I hope this is good!” – the theatre-goer’s eternal prayer.)

To my pleasure, Northern Ballet Theatre’s Hamlet (choreographed by David Nixon and new this year) was really good. They had moved the story up to World War Two and Occupied Paris – a fairly common resetting for Shakespeare, at least in terms of the World Wars – but then made several changes to the story that could irritate purists but served to drive the story much better than a slavish adherence to the original would have. Hamlet’s dad (Steven Wheeler) was Paris’ head of police, killed by his uncle Claudius (Darren Goldsmith) in a blatant act of career climbing/toadying when the Nazis moved into town. This means that Hamlet (Christopher Hinton-Lewis, phwoar) is not a prince in this show, but, as a commoner, his grief at the loss of his dad is actually much more moving. I also found the women quite intriguing in an environment in which dealing with powerlessness and being, essentially, prisoners so strongly informed their actions. Gertrude (Nathalie Leger) was a fool, to be sure, but she seemed so much less of a conspirator than just another person trying to survive in very bad circumstances, and at the end, her affection for Hamlet seemed quite genuine (despite the fact that during the, er, sex scene with Claudius, she looked most unmotherly and quite sprightly in her vintage 40’s unmentionables).

And, of course, there’s Ophelia (Georgina May). Oddly, I’ve just come off of reading the book Something Rotten, which is a meta-literary comedy in which Ophelia and Polonius attempt to become the stars of the “play formerly starring Hamlet,” and it’s somehow left me with this idea that Ophelia isn’t satisfied with her role in the play (even though this is totally an artifact of the book). I felt like Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia was much better realized in this ballet than it is in the play – their love dance in the first act was just … beautiful (*gets goosebumps*). The way Hamlet lifted and carried her over his back (once he’d finally engaged with her through his sorrow), the way they held each other’s faces, the way he slid above her and she grabbed ahold of his body to lift herself right up off of the floor – it showed a degree of affection and tenderness that I never saw in Shakespeare. In addition, her mad scene in act two was FANTASTIC, a total star turn for Miss May. I’ve never seen changing the way someone walks so perfectly capture someone who’s gone over the edge – clip-clopping flat-footed in her toe shoes, hiding behind pillars, and of course handing out her bizarre little Nazi posies to the various guests at the dance. She put Lucia di Lammermoor to shame and, frankly, pulled far more of a star turn than the original Ophelia ever managed. Complain about lack of faith to the original? You’ll not hear me make a peep. This adaptation was nothing short of fantastic.

There was a lot more to this show, though, including leaping leather clad Nazis, black gowned Cabaret-style chanteuses, torture scenes, and men dancing in boots up to their knees – not really in the style of either a typical R&J (for some reason as a ballet Romeo and Juliet is ALWAYS Renaissance Italy) or a sexless Swan Lake. I can’t really say that the dance was outstanding other than in the Ophelia scenes – there was a near total lack of dancing on pointe, which made me sad – but it was good, in general, there was a rockin’ duel at the end, and it was a coherent work of theater that came complete with an original score. In short: highly recommended, and I hope it passes into the general ballet repertory.


Northern Ballet’s Hamlet at Sadler’s Wells – ticket deal

April 16, 2008

I was just informed of a great deal – tickets for £15 to Northern Ballet’s Hamlet. Details are here. I’m going on Tuesday the 22nd and already have my tickets bought – unfortunately! I am really hoping to see a new Shakespeare play entering the ballet canon, especially after the disappointment of Wheeldon’s “Elsinor.” Which such interesting characters, surely there’s a good ballet in Hamlet somewhere. At any rate, it’s a great deal, so come pack the house.