Simon Russell Beale brings a new, very intellectual, approach to HAMLET in the new National Theatre production.
‘i‘JO'cs: Steve Cramer
So shrouded in the mystique of the English Literature canon is Ham/er that it is difficult for anyone to find perspective with the play. The Everest of the classic repertoire for actors. the unchallengeable ‘great’ play for students and readers alike. an intimidating experience for theatregoers. this is a play which has so much of the history of the culture loaded upon it. that one might be forgiven for wishing it would just go away. It won‘t. though. and shouldn‘t. and after Angela Winkler‘s brooding. slightly Goth-like female Dane at the International Festival. comes an entirely different version from the National Theatre.
Simon Russell Beale is the latest high-grade British actor to attempt to extract the play from the mire of cultural expectation that surrounds it. and his approach to the multi- faceted text is as novel as one could hope. Noted as something of an intellectual within the profession. Russell Beale‘s analytical abilities have clearly been brought to bear here. In director John Caird's production. Hamlet's quest for vengeance upon his uncle after the death of his father is done without its political dimension. Whatever is rotten in the state of Denmark. it's the family at the centre of the state that Caird and Russell Beale are interested in. Caird has indeed gone so far as to remove altogether the character of Fortinbrass. and his invading Norwegians. from the play. Does this make for a toast and slippers Hum/er. a kind of banal. suburban version of events?
Russell Beale thinks not. emphasising instead the
Simon Russell Beale
54 THELIST 27 Sea—S Oct 2622
'He doesn't want to have sex with his mother, he wants his mother to stop having sex with
Pondering the big questions: Simon Russell Beale, right with Dennis Quilley as the Gravedigger
intensity of everyday love. and its subversion as the play"s central thematic concern. ‘There‘s a kind of tender ache about all the characters of the play.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s not a cynical play. Everyone has the potential to love everyone in the play. Hamlet loves his mother. Ophelia. Polonius and given time. and the chance. even his uncle. potentially. The play. more than I‘d ever realised before rehearsals started. is about the betrayal of love.‘
The claim that Hamlet might at some point make friends with uncle Claudius seems. on the face of the textual evidence. a moot point. but more significantly. seems to diverge with the popular reading of Hamlet as a domestic tragedy. without the politics. The approach generally taken when we choose to read the play this way is psychoanalytic. with Hamlet enacting his Oedipal guilt and desire for his mother through his desire to do with his substitute father. what he could not with his real dad — kill him and supplant him in his mother‘s bed. Thus. the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude in her bedchamber has been represented as a near-rape sequence in the Derek Jacobi version two decades back. and much the same in Zeffirelli's oft-mocked Mel Gibson/Glenn Close movie version. Russell Beale dismisses all this: ‘He doesn‘t want to have sex with his mother. he wants his mother to stop having sex with his uncle.‘
L'ltimately. this Ham/er looks like incorporating much of its lead‘s intellectualism. ‘I don’t think it‘s a mistake that he‘s a student. probably of theology. He‘s spent his life pondering the big questions. but this is the first time he‘s had to face them in reality. It‘s a crisis. and he's grief stricken. but he isn't mad. in fact I think he‘s very analytical. “To be or not to he" isn't mad. it's a very controlled piece of writing. and Hamlet is balancing out the possibilities in an academic way.‘
Glasgow: Theatre Royal, Tue 26-Sat 30 Sep.
Re: Treading the boards
THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT of the new season at the Arches has set pulses racing among the literati. The Arches company's contribution is The Book Room, a new play by Julie Fuller, directed by Andy Arnold, about an Edinburgh woman whose correspondence with American writer Paul Auster develops into a quest for narrational endings. The play sounds very like one of Auster’s novels, with the writer passing through many identities as he manipulates his story. This kind of experiment with reality and its double, art, should send the Eng Lit fraternity flocking to the Arches.
In the immediate future, Boilerhouse will be presenting Red, a project combining music, physical theatre and the writing of many contributors. Among other treats will be a production of Steven Berkoff's The Fall Of The House Of Usher from Graeae Theatre Company, and a revival of Passing Places by On Q Productions.
THESE DAYS, THE theatre, like the somety it reflects, is frequently blind to its own ideological bigotries. Even supposedly cutting edge theatre companies have tended over the last few years to concentrate on individual experience, rather than broader social issues, leawng bigger questions about social jUSilCe to . . . well, no one, actually.
It’s good then to see the reappearance at least in the form of print, 0‘ Edward Bond. Bond is one of the foremost theatre thinkers of the last century, as well as a playwnght of considerable gifts. Denied a Signi‘icant place on tne stage by our latently right-wing powers that be, Bond 15 stiil notsHenced,
His new book, The Hidden Plot, speaks of the poverty of imag-nation in the Current theatre, and makes a brilliantly argued case .‘Or a mere rational theatre. Presented ll" the form of a succesSion of essays about theatre, soc-ety and the imagination, this as as important a book you'll read about the theatre for some time. Publ shed by lvlethuen at £17.99, we reckon it’s well worth giwng up a few theatre tickets tor.
Edward Bond, a playwrite without a stage