Details

 

Directed by Michael Croft. Marc Culwick (Hamlet), Nathaniel Parker (Claudius), Rachel Bell (Orphelia), Anna Verdine (Gertrude), Lloyd Owen (Ghost), Jonathan Cake (Lucianus), Matthew Townshend (Polonius), Nick King (Laertes), Tim Tracy (Horatio), David Thorpe (Rosencrantz), Jonathan Wingrave (Guildenstern), Robert Bristow (Osric), David Elmes, Edward Kemp, Jonathan Cake, Charles De'Ath, Julian McCready, Ben Ashwood, Philip Machers, Steven Payne, Stuart Colwill, Martin Gravis (himself) and Ron Daniels (himself). Production year 1984, Publisher: Schofield and Sims. Format VHS cassette.

 

 

 

Plot Summary

 

OK, so extra short summary. Set in Denmark. Recounts how our hero Prince Hamlet seeks revenge on his uncle Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father, and then taken the throne and married Hamlet's mother. The play ferociously deals with real and simulated madness - from all-absorbing grief to blood-seeking rage - and explores themes of treachery, revenge, and moral corruption. It all ends in death for important lead roles (meaning anyone who's got more than four complete sentences). It is Shakespeare's longest play, and said to be among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English tongue and beyond. Playing the lead in Hamlet is a tour-de-force with brakes on and any actor's dream or nightmare depending on the mental state. Either you're too young to play it but you don't have the skills or you're too old and have the skills... besides the part is constantly under public scrutiny and regularly falls victim to unseemly comparisons. This effect worsens with the mixed-blessings of continuously pining performances onto film for the last 100 years - give or take. It's a dilemma and anyone who's taking on this role is very brave to say the least. READ IT or GO WATCH IT. Full stop.

General Review 

 

Please keep in mind that the Bard shaped my understanding of what art, theatre, music and all sorts of artistic ventures should do. It is quite "simple". Touch all their senses, work on various levels, never underestimate their intellect, tell more than one story without misleading nor forgetting them - your audience. Mostly: don't lie to them. It doesn't exactly have to be a new idea that has to come to life, but under all circumstances it shouldn't be a bore and it would be lovely if it had something to say. A good play tells you something about real human emotions, situations and how the characters deal with it all. Plain and simple. But simple is never easy.

Anything that smells like aseptic classroom air is dead wrong when trying to get people in touch with Shakespeare's work. Far too often people get turned off by lengthy lectures on the man and his plays. Thinking about it clearly it ain't the Bard's fault and it is a misfortune for anyone's development to have (had) such teachers.

Unfortunately this ill-advised NYT take on "how to make Hamlet work for students" succeeds in this respect in its first 80 minutes on almost all levels. It really isn't a clever approach to cut Hamlet down to an assumed accessibility level for people who don't have the patience to follow the actions for three hours or more. People who don't care won't care and you won't persuade them into a three hours play at any rate. I think I can sense the idea behind this. The RSC gained a great deal of attention with the late seventies BBC production of Shakespeare plays and maybe one motivation was the good-hearted and egalitarian NYT idea to draw younger folks from all social levels to the Bard's work by making things "easier" (mind you not "simpler").

Worse than cutting it they've taken out all the really entertaining scenes, making the cut-down-to-size play even darker and more tragic than it is. Some hilarious dialogues have simply been left out, like the advising scene where Polonius instructs his son Laertes. Why do such a thing? I mean yep it can be fun having "The Compete Works By Shakespeare - Abridged", but here they're dwelling on obviously boring bits instead of entertaining ones. Shakespeare knew about the need for comedy and its function even in his most enigmatic play "The Tempest".

Moving on to the more "serious" left-outs. Why not start the play with the sentence that has become a catch-phrase in many languages: "Something's rotten in the state of Demark". Heaven forbid hinting people to where this sentence comes from. The influence of such short and seemingly irrelevant words trickles one's awareness of our usage of language and how it is shaped through times, crosses cultures and arts. And of how persistent words can be - in this case 400 years and beyond. To me that sentence is as important as "To be or not to be" with all its philosophy behind it. It builds a bridge to our past, to where we come from.

But let's put such obvious things aside, taking into account that you've got 80 out of 200+ minutes you go figure out the missing parts yourself, I rely on your fantasy here. This production breaths chalk-soaked air in more respect than its mislead "educational" attitude. This is amplified by the fact that supposed key scenes which might as well have been randomly chosen are being gravely misinterpret by student actors, most notably the lead Hamlet. The least you can expect of an actor is that he gives the impression that he listens to what the others have to tell him. No way here. It is frightening to see the difference in talent and non-talent at such an early stage of a profession. And believe me I know it's harsh to write it, but it is true nonetheless. OK so we are 20+ years on - you'll look up who's ended up where and that makes any unfair, mean or biased comment superfluous.

The costumes are fake-Elizabethan, the set is not worth mentioning and camera angles aren't exactly elaborate. In between all that you've got a presenter, Martin Jarvis who gives us a short round-up to the history of the National Youth Theatre spiced of with anecdotes of his younger days and of course fills in the narrative gaps that need explanation. All this is set in early eighties chique (absolutely the standard of the time mind you, can't blame them for that), corduroy jackets in brown and some semi-intellectual armchair out of which our teacher lectures us. I missed the specs and the smoking pipe to be frank. A fireplace and a huge bookshelf would have been a nice addition. This comes complete with an original impression of early eighties actors' hairdos (especially irritating with Culwick's Hamlet), summing up to a mixture of non-persuasive filmed theatre.

The tragic with this dramatisation-for-schools is that Hamlet's inner meaning has been ripped out. To top it all, the young actors are struggling hard with a very stilted accent they are trying to use (who knows why) and everything is made so accessible to the non-interested that it actually becomes uninteresting if not painfully and unwillingly hilariously funny for literate and non-literate audiences alike.

Having written this, I have to excuse myself once more, because after having been hard on the production's first 80 minutes I need to point out to you that this tape also has a second part. Which is surprisingly interesting and educational in a simple way. The true gem is hidden in the last 30 minutes when RSC director Ron Daniels starts to work with the young actors all from 17 to probably 22 years old. You are able to observe it all. It gives you a unique insight in how a director can form a post-teeny bellowing idea of Hamlet into a more maturely philosophic figure. And of how - hopefully - rehearsals work in general.

Daniels goes through to him revealing scenes with the cast, explains in his own words - no that's not right, he doesn't explain, he lets the would-like-to-be actors feel for themselves and makes them realize what the words might probably be about. Suddenly some performances gain a quality they didn't have before.

General message: don't just say the words and do it the way you think is right. Try to understand the situation the character is in, try to get a feeling for time and place. Listen to the other characters on stage, don't just react when they have finished their lines. Be a means to what the Bard (or your director) want to point at shouldn't you have the right idea yourself. Use your head, and if you fail to do that, at least do a bit of research to get the gist of the period the play was written in. Educate yourself, even by listening to your director. Be there and be prepared and that doesn't mean: know your lines by heart. It's also interesting to see how some students react to the practices and the words of Daniels.

Nat's Review 

 

As indicated before, this is the very first "production" with a 22 year-old Nat in the very early days of his career. You'll get to watch him as a nearly fully educated actor, meaning he isn't flawless.

But without sounding too complacent, Nat really stands out of the whole cast. He's not just the most interesting face to look at which wouldn't do this production justice. Everybody is radiating youth; they're fit, and exploding with energy. Actually Nat is the calmest here. No post-teenage angst not to come through noticeably enough, no overacted excitement like "look at me look at me" mannerism.

What you see here is a dignified King with an aura of knavish villain about him. Deep and dangerous, manipulating and - yes - surprisingly loving and forgiving. It becomes strikingly clear what distinguishes a decent actor from a talented one. It's hard to explain, you need to feel it. It's maybe described best by using the words: having confidence in what you do and making the audience believe in your character. It's a sort of respectful conscience without a wilful attitude towards the craft of acting and character building - maybe.

Nat steals the scenes each time, but when he actually delivers his monologue as Claudius in which he admits his deeds and asks us for our forgiveness strangely is the most touching. The way he easily transfers the insuperable barrier between himself all alone on-stage with only fragile words and our two-dimensional TV-screen mark the humble beginnings of a career that was yet to come. It was undeniably obvious - there was never any doubt about that. This becomes evident when the camera time and again searches for Nat's face in half-profile especially during rehearsals and seemingly proves that his features are more than fit for any camera. Nope no doubt about it - not even in the humblest of beginnings.

Status

 

Out of print

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