Written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in Denmark, recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father, the King, and then taken the throne and married Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The play vividly charts the course of real and feigned madness - from overwhelming grief to seething rage - and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.
Aesthetically we are taken into a large hall, with a stage at one end. Are we in a community centre or perhaps a minor public school? It is not clear. It's a brilliantly executed piece of stage design (by Jon Bausor), but the relevance to the narrative is never fully revealed... Any Hamlet stands or falls on the interpretations of the characters. There are some positives here... But, for me, Hamlet is not Jonathan Slinger’s role. I get the impression that he has been working on his interpretation for many years - developing ideas and new ways of approaching the (all too familiar) lines. And I'm certain that he has a clear vision for what he is trying to achieve but he (and Farr) were unable to communicate it to me... I suspect, in the end, this is a production that will divide audiences and critics alike.
Fiona Mountford Evening Standard ★★★ In recent years, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that the title role in Hamlet must be played by a big-name stars...but all credit to the RSC for giving the less well-known but equally deserving Jonathan Slinger, a long-time company member, his shot at the part... he presents a constantly intelligent reading and his performance gains in depth as the action progresses, taking us confidently through the turbulent thought processes of this would-be hero of a traditional revenge tragedy... he trouble with staging arguably the finest play ever written in English is that each new production really needs to sparkle to justify its existence. David Farr’s modern-dress take, which moves from a Foyle’s War-type church hall to a bleak Beckettian landscape, is never less than watchable, but rarely near scintillating.
David Farr's new take on Hamlet takes place in what looks like the fencing gym of a run-down public school... For the final act, heavies cart away the parquet floor in sections, leaving a raw expanse of earth for the gravediggers, the botched burial of Ophelia and climactic duel. Before that, though, in narrative terms, it remains a real puzzle as to why the proceedings are trapped in the sports hall... At first, I found Jonathan Slinger’s performance grating to a degree. He has virtuosic vocal range that can move between mock-falsetto to a resonant subterranean dungeon of a sound. And, boy, does he let you know this in an oh-so-slow delivery of the earlier soliloquies where you could drive a bus through the pauses and where he seems to atomise the speeches a series of discrete effects... What epitomises a production that I came to admire, is contained in the unusual stress-pattern Slinger gives to the play's most famous line: “To be or not to be, that is the question”... It's a measure of how Farr's production, which has a wild inventiveness, perhaps too much requires a familiarity with this tragedy.
[WOS_QU@TE]#The defining notes of Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet are relentless anger and withering sarcasm#Charles Spencer[/WOS_QU@TE]
I was looking forward to Shakespeare’s play which explores loss, grief and guilt with more beauty, wisdom and profundity than any other work of art I know. I thought it might make me cry, but knew they would be the kind of tears that help to heal. In fact I remained dry-eyed throughout... In fact the defining notes of Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet are relentless anger and withering sarcasm, a reductive view of the character that becomes decidedly wearing... Only rarely does Slinger do justice to some of the greatest dramatic poetry ever written... In Slinger’s sneering performance such moments are rare... The one success is Greg Hicks, equally compelling as Claudius and the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. His physical grace and superb verse-speaking puts most of the company to shame, and I wonder what Greg Doran, the company’s new artistic director, makes of this botched shot...
Michael Billington Guardian ★★★ David Farr's stimulating new RSC version and Jonathan Slinger's riveting protagonist, both suffer from an excess of detail... All these present ideas are fascinating. I just wasn't sure which one offered the key to Farr's interpretation. If one thing is clear, it is that Slinger's Hamlet is a vigorous depressive who, in his violent mood-swings between reflective lassitude and feverish action, verges on the bipolar... As always, Slinger is compelling to watch... While Slinger gives us access to Hamlet's mind and soul, he over-illustrates the language. It's a dazzling performance, but Slinger might heed Hamlet's own advice to the players about the need to acquire "a temperance that may give it smoothness".
The pedigree of those involved in this production is undoubtedly strong: David Farr has directed many well-received productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company over a number of years and Jonathan Slinger is one of the most lauded of the current generation of classical actors. They have a well-established working relationship, so why then is their Hamlet so far from being a complete success?
Aesthetically we are taken into a large hall, with a stage at one end. Are we in a community centre or perhaps a minor public school? It is not clear. It's a brilliantly executed piece of stage design (by Jon Bausor), but the relevance to the narrative is never fully revealed. My suspicion is that it emerged out of a desire to explain why swords are present in a contemporary setting. So a sporting environment with lots of fencing ephemera allows for this to be resolved - but quite what this municipal setting has to say about the rest of the text, I am at a loss to explain.
Irrespective of the setting, any Hamlet stands or falls on the interpretations of the characters. There are some positives here. Pippa Nixon continues to shine as one of the brightest performers of her generation. Her Ophelia is intelligent, awkward and very much aware of the dysfunction around her - thus rendering her mental collapse all the more touching.
Alex Waldmann also impresses as Horatio, bringing an endearing earnestness to the character. Waldmann, as he showed in King John, always a very watchable actor. Indeed I wondered how different this production might have been had he been in the title role. Certainly I hope his time will come in this regard. There is also a robust and handsome Laertes from Luke Norris and I did warm to Charlotte Cornwell's Gertrude after a somewhat uncertain start.
I have admired much of Jonathan Slinger's work with the RSC but I do feel that, on this occasion, the company quite simply gets it wrong. He is an actor of considerable talent and great presence - but, for me, Hamlet is not his role. I get the impression that he has been working on his interpretation for many years - developing ideas and new ways of approaching the (all too familiar) lines. And I'm certain that he has a clear vision for what he is trying to achieve but he (and Farr) were unable to communicate it to me.
[WOS_QU@TE]#Shakespeare's advice to the Players seems to have been completely ignored#[/WOS_QU@TE]
He employs so many 'actorly' tricks, both verbally and physically, that it is hard to see through to the emotional truth of what the character is experiencing. I certainly get the manic side to his interpretation but never really feel his grief or deep depression. It is a cliché to say that less is more - but I think that stripping away some of the excesses of his performance would deliver a far more satisfying result.
At 3 hours 45 minutes, this is a long evening in the theatre; much of this stems from a fatal lack of pace, as it is far from a full text. Quite simply, too many lines are indulged. Indeed, Shakespeare's advice to the Players seems to have been completely ignored with all of the excesses Hamlet demands his actors must avoid being all too evident in the production as a whole.
I suspect, in the end, this is a production that will divide audiences and critics alike. There will be those like me who do not buy into the Farr/Slinger vision and those who are enthused and engaged by it. Certainly both reactions were evident at the end of this performance.
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