Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hypochondriacs, Hamlet, Friends and Fun

There's been a lot of theatre in my life just recently. Last weekend, my parents came down for the weekend, and we went to see 'The Hypochondriac'  in Bath, starring Tony Robinson. It's not a play I've seen before, and I admit that I had vaguely assumed, given that it is a classic of French theatre, that it would be erudite as well as funny.  

I discovered that it is (in this new translation, at least) pure farce, with many jokes about pee and shit. The plot, involving an avaricious 2nd wife, a beautiful daughter in love with an unsuitable young man,and a selfish father, is predictable, but none the less fun for that, and we enjoyed the evening.

Then *this* weekend, I was up in Manchester to visit some very good friends, and we went out to see 'Hamlet' at the Royal Exchange.

This production features Maxine Peake in the title role - I'm most familiar with her as the tough barrister, Martha, in the TV series 'Silk', although she also appeared as 'Doll Tearsheet' in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 when they were filmed  for the 'Hollow Crown' series. 

I have not seen her live on stage before.

It was an excellent production - Peake's Prince comes across as vulnerable, and very much a grieving child, rather than a Prince resentful of the loss of his throne.

I didn't feel that there was much chemistry between Hamlet and Ophelia (Katie West) but Ophelia seemed a fuller character than she often is - very aware of the manipulative way which Claudius and Polonia use her, and unhappy about it. Which feeds in well to her grief and madness following the death of her mother.

The play has some cuts - all mention of Fortinbras and the Norwegians have been cut, leaving very little in the way of political content. There have also been some changes to the play - Laertes returns home in time to see Ophelia in her madness, for instance, and the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy comes later in the play than normal. 

Hamlet - Maxine Peake ( (c) Royal Exchange Manchester / Jonathan Keenan)
 On the whole, I thought the production was very good, with an extremely strong cast. John Shrapnel (playing the ghost of Hamlet's father, and Claudius) was suitably unlikeable as Claudius.

There were one or two things I wasn't too keen on (aren't there always?) - for instance, in contrast to the otherwise fairly sparse staging, the gravedigger scene suddenly involved a big heap of old clothes falling from the ceiling and being 'dug' to make Ophelia's grave, with Yorick's skull being represented by a rolled or folder sweater. I assume that the aim was to avoid the cliche of an actual skull, but I found it rather distracting and out of keeping with the rest of the production.

However, this was a pretty minor issue in an over all very strong production, and I'm really pleased that we saw it. I think the run ends this Friday so not many chances more to see it!

The rest of the weekend was lovely - lots of relaxed time with dear friends!

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