Who’ll Win the Hamlet Head-to-Head???Date: 12 September 2007
When Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage announced on Monday that his theatre’s West End season at Wyndham’s Theatre would culminate in June 2009 with Jude Law in a Hamlet directed by Kenneth Branagh (who directed him on screen in Sleuth, due for a November UK release), he was asked what sort of Prince of Denmark he expected from the British film star (See News, 10 Sep 2007). Grandage replied that he anticipated an “open”, “raw” and “potentially very different take” on the role given Law’s previous performances in “fiercely difficult” classical roles from ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Doctor Faustus at the Young Vic, where he “showed himself to be a remarkable, muscular, visceral actor who has a direct connection to raw emotion”.
Law, of course, was splashed across the newspapers the next morning – on the same day as a long-scheduled press conference arranged by the Royal Shakespeare Company to announce its own 2008 Hamlet in the form of David Tennant (See News, 11 Sep 2007). RSC chief associate Gregory Doran, who will direct Tennant, tackled the Donmar’s news spoiler unprompted. “The only interesting thing about Jude Law’s Hamlet is the timing of the announcement,” the director said with a wry smile.
At the RSC briefing, Doran described Tennant as “a brilliant wordsmith and a brilliant young classical actor” but refused to be drawn on what sort of Prince he expected from the accomplished stage actor, now best known from TV’s Doctor Who, saying that “we haven’t sat down and said David will be a particularly witty Hamlet” or whatever as that would emerge from the rehearsal process and the dynamic within the company.
However, Doran did point out that, with Shakespeare, and this play in particular, at the RSC – where Hamlets over the years have included Paul Scofield, David Warner, Michael Pennington, Alex Jennings, Samuel West and Toby Stephens – you could never disregard the legacy. According to Doran, you can be “both intimidated and inspired by what has gone before, but you cannot ignore what has gone before” – the result is simultaneously “a release and a burden”. The new RSC production, which runs in rep at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Courtyard Theatre from August to November 2008 ahead of a planned Christmas West End transfer, will be Doran’s 25th production for the company – and, notably, his first go at Hamlet. “I thought it was about time I tackled it,” he said.