A man in question
The King and Queen kiss passionately. Hamlet groans and falls down, below the stage, into a grave – a pit of sadness – with Ophelia in his arms. The subsequent effect of this opening montage of NADSAT’s production of Hamlet was twofold. The slightly nauseating passion of the King and Queen went some way to providing an object correlative for Hamlet’s disgust at the world. The other effect of this beginning, a beautiful outward representation of internal torment, was that the rest of the performance was in its shadow.
The Fortinbras subplot had been wisely cut, which left the play without much of a context, but the use of film provided an early 20th century Chaplin-esque quality. Sometimes the films were whole scenes, sometimes they were used as a visual aid into Hamlet’s mental state. The first proper scene was projected in black and white and the badly edited sound (roaring wind one second/silence the next) only added to the offbeat spookiness of the men’s sighting of the Ghost
But on to the man in question. The comic scenes, at least, were played brilliantly, Thomas McNulty’s pretending-to-be-mad Hamlet was masterful, as was Mike Clarke’s camp Polonius and Alex Wingfield’s very, very (inexplicably) camp Osric. In fact, the whole production turned out to be rather camp, from the melodrama of the beginning, to Hamlet’s overemotional outbursts. The former worked much better as something outside of the action and in Hamlet’s mind, whereas the tears and wailing got slightly boring in the real world of the play on the stage.
Because McNulty’s actually-mad Hamlet was … very mad. He might be unreasonable, delusional, dangerous and self-reverential, but the audience needs to be slightly entranced by the eponymous hero for the play to have maximum effect. When the pinnacle of hysterical emotion is hit time and time again on stage, the audience stops caring about the Prince and the finer workings of his mind.
Overall the production was impressive – the music and lighting was deeply unsettling and transformed the aesthetic quality of the words from the page on to the stage. But no matter how well lit a stage might be, the real crux of a Shakespeare play is the lines and how they are delivered. I have always thought (excluding the most masterful of actors) that Shakespeare was better on the page, and I can’t say this production changed my mind.