David Farr's new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet starring Jonathan Slinger in the title role opened in the RST this week.
The production, which runs in Stratford until the end of September, also stars Greg Hicks as Claudius/Ghost, Charlotte Cornwell as Gertrude and Pippa Nixon as Ophelia.
Was it a palpable hit or did it suffer slings and arrows? Well, a bit of both...
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.
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.
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...
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".
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