Hamlet (World Hamlet)

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Two years ago, I attended a preview performance of Hamlet at Middle Temple Hall. The production, which officially opened at the Globe on 23 April 2014, was a particularly special one: it was about to embark on a world tour, arriving back at the Globe in 2016.

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Two years later, and Hamlet has been to 197 countries, delivering 293 performances at 202 venues. On Sunday 24 April, I went to see the production’s very last performance at the Globe, marking the end of a weekend of celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

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I originally said that this production of Hamlet wasn’t the best I had ever seen; perhaps it just needed some time to bed in, because last night I thought it was much improved. It was much more physical than any Hamlet I’ve seen before, and there was much more humour, probably for the benefit of international audiences who might not speak English. The acting was strong: I particularly liked Keith Bartlett’s Polonius, who gave the impression of a genial old man who, though a bit bumbling, is essentially kindhearted. Naeem Hayat played Hamlet, and brought a youthful, rather geeky quality to the role. The cast have each played a number of roles throughout the tour, presumably to prevent things getting stale, and I enjoyed the chance to see different people in the principal roles.

When the play ended, the crowd went wild. I have never heard applause like it. If the Globe had a roof, the cheering would have blown it off. The clapping grew even louder when outgoing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole took to the stage to make a short speech thanking everyone for their involvement in the production and with the Globe as a whole.
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It was a poignant evening: the end of an era. I took one of the roses that had been thrown on to the stage as a memento. I sincerely hope that Emma Rice’s tenure of the Globe is as exciting and wonderful as the past decade has been.

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Shakespeare Live from the RSC

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you will be aware that it was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday. Celebrations were going on up and down the country, and the highlight for me was the Shakespeare Live show streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, to cinemas and on BBC2, where I watched from the sofa in my pyjamas.

I followed what people were saying on Twitter, and responses were mixed. I thought a lot of people would have preferred more actual Shakespeare, with actors performing scenes from his plays. Personally, though, I liked the variety: it showed how Shakespeare had inspired so many different people, from jazz musicians to comedians to ballet composers, and judging by other responses on Twitter, it engaged a lot of people who weren’t previously Shakespeare fans. In any case, I think the best way to see Shakespeare is in the context of a whole play: just seeing one or two scenes doesn’t have the same impact. That said, some of my favourite segments were those involving Shakespeare’s scenes, so what do I know?!

I have compiled an entirely personal, just-for-fun list of seven of my favourite moments from the show.

1. Catherine Tate’s ‘Seven Ages’ speech
Presenting the show with her Much Ado About Nothing co-star David Tennant, Tate delivered the famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech with the help of seven real people from the area: including a newborn baby, a local schoolboy, a serving soldier, and a retired RSC production manager.

2. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in Macbeth
I would like to see these two in a full production of Macbeth now, please. They are both fantastic actors and they did this scene proud.

3. Judi Dench and Al Murray in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dame Judi and the Pub Landlord in a scene together? Unexpected, but it worked SO well.

4. The Horrible Histories Shakespeare sketch
“Who are you?” “William…” “..Shoppingtrolley?” Irreverent and hugely funny, this sketch in which Shakespeare showed up at a pub where Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe were drinking together was brilliant.

5. Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound’s ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’
I love musicals anyway, so this was a given, but the pair’s performance was excellent, very tongue-in-cheek.

6. Sir Ian McKellen’s speech from Sir Thomas More
Sir Ian’s delivery of the hugely topical speech about refugees was poignant and perfectly-timed.

7. The ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ sketch
For me, this was hands-down the best part of the evening. From Tim Minchin’s “I’ll never play Hamlet in Stratford because I’m ginger!” to Judi Dench’s “I am Hamlet, the Dame” and Prince Charles’s closing intervention, it was a joy from start to finish, poking fun at theatrical conventions in a hilarious and irreverent way. Best of all was, after all that, when eight of the nine Hamlets (Minchin, Dench, HRH, Rory Kinnear, Benedict Cumberbatch, Harriet Walter, David Tennant and Ian McKellen) had departed the stage, Paapa Essiedu, who is currently playing the role at the RSC, delivered the famous speech in such a moving, fresh and thoughtful way that it reminded me no matter how many first-class Hamlets have been and gone, there are always plenty of greats left to come.

As a bonus, my final highlight of the night was reading the tweets of the Samuel French publishing account.

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Borodin Quartet: Shostakovich and Beethoven

I’ve been to a few classical music concerts in recent months, but they tend to be big full-orchestra concerts, so I decided to try a different kind of concert at Wigmore Hall. The Borodin Quartet are a string quartet who are currently working through a Beethoven and Shostakovich cycle at the Hall. On the evening I attended they played the following pieces:

Dmitry Shostakovich
String Quartet No. 4 in D major Op. 83

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in D major Op. 18 No. 3
Grosse Fuge in B flat major Op. 133

I really enjoyed the pieces and I thought the concert was a lovely way to wind down on a Friday night.

Samuel Beckett’s Quad and Nacht und Träume

I’ve been watching a couple of television plays by Samuel Beckett, Quad and Nacht und Träume. Quad was written, first produced and broadcast in 1981. It is a really strange production, which involves four cloaked individuals moving around a square in an odd formation. The piece is performed twice, the second piece in black and white and without music.

Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams) was the last television play written and directed by Samuel Beckett. It was written and recorded in 1982, with the mime artist Helfrid Foron playing both parts. It is a strange, haunting play, wordless, with the only sound that of a male voice humming, then singing, Schubert’s Nacht und Träume. The composer was one of Beckett’s favourites.

Samuel Beckett’s “Film”

Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay, Film, was written in 1963 and filmed in New York the following year. I watched it online at UbuWeb. Beckett originally wanted Charlie Chaplin to play the lead (referred to only as “O”) but this didn’t work out, and the role eventually went to Buster Keaton.

The film differed slightly from the script as written, but it was approved by Beckett as he was on set at the time. I read the script as part of my edition of his Collected Works, but this was the first time I had seen it on screen.

The film explores one man’s bid to escape from an all-seeing eye – perhaps meant to represent the camera itself. It is almost totally silent, and is a rather eerie experience. It’s short, but memorable: simple on the surface, but I’m sure it would repay careful study.

Waiting in the Wings

This Noel Coward play was the prolific writer’s 50th effort, first performed in 1960. I went to see an amateur production by Proscenium at the Compass Theatre in Ickenham.

Waiting in the Wings is the bittersweet tale of a group of former actresses now resident in a retirement home for ex-thespians, appropriately called The Wings. The main plot involves the arrival of a new resident, who is not on speaking terms with one of the existing ladies. Will the two reconcile?

Like much of Noel Coward’s work, the play is often very funny but it has a poignant side too: the work deals with loneliness, faded glory and even dementia. It requires a large cast, as there are very many characters, but I was incredibly impressed by the standard of acting displayed by every member of the cast, all of whom brought their characters to life. The play was fairly long, but I never once felt bored or restless.

This production is definitely recommended, not only because it’s a rare chance to see a little-performed Coward work, but because the cast do such a wonderful job.

Enchanted April

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I read the novel Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, so when I saw that a production of the stage play by Matthew Barber would be performed at the Colour House Theatre at Merton Abbey Mills I decided that it was fate. The story concerns a group of four women, strangers before the story begins, who decide to rent a house in Italy for the month of April and find that their holiday works its magic on them all.

This amateur production by The Tudor Players in association with Breakfast Cat Theatre Company was simply staged with a small cast, but still managed to convey the dreariness of London in the rain and the charm of Italy in the sun. The acting was very good, particularly from Tia Matthews as Lotty, and overall the production succeeded in emphasising the magic of the novel.