Hamlet is a classical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s original version. We went to see this version on the 1st November 2004 at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. William Shakespeare is famously known for his writing of well-credited and popular plays. Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but his exact date of birth is not known, therefore is assumed to be the 23rd April. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and they had three children. In 158 Shakespeare was recognised as an actor, poet and playwright, when he was referred to as an “upstage crow” in “A Groatsworth of Wit”.
Shakespeare continued to write many famous plays such as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Tempest’ before dying on his 52nd birthday in 1616. Hamlet is a play of lies and deceit between friends and family, which sets out to show the audience the friction of royalty, over power and leadership. When Hamlet’s father died and the crown was handed over to his brother Claudius, Hamlet is visited by his fathers ghost to tell Hamlet that Claudius murdered him. Hamlet is then forced to gain revenge on Claudius and anyone else that gets in his way.
A story of love and hate, truth and lies, in a capsule, put on stage. Hamlet has been very highly reviewed by national papers such as the ‘Guardian’ saying it was ‘riveting’ and the ‘Daily Express’ saying it was a ‘Chilling Hamlet performance’. Hamlet is set in Denmark and has been kept Shakespearean through its costumes and language used. Hamlet used music that reflected the situations happening – e. g. the hall scene used classical music that was sung and played live, this could represent the power of the royals.
DEscription of the stage settings and play
The whole of the production was set on the stage, with entrances and exits, mainly, through the wooden panelled background set. The set of a wooden surrounding encased the audience and actors to provoke a feeling of being trapped and cannot escape. The genre of the play was tragedy, so the general expectations that the audience wanted to see were death, betrayal and shocking revelations. Hamlet was performed in a proscenium arch at the ‘Theatre Royal’, with the audience surrounding every side, from the stalls to the gallery. I have also seen ‘The Play What I Wrote’ at the Theatre Royal.
The advertising for this play was quite minimal. Posters were placed outside of the theatre and information was placed on their website, but because the play was originally wrote by an immensely famous playwright it was also publicised by word of mouth. The set was very simple and had very few props, which were brought onto the bare stage. E. g. the goblet of poison and the sword rack. I think the stage was minimalist so as not to overpower the actors and distract the audience from the text of the play towards the set design, although cleverly created to be a blank canvas.
The effect of placing the play into the same set throughout, using the same bare stage for each different scene, was highly effective as the audience could take in the set when they first enter, although not much to take in, before the play starts, and concentrate on the storyline from then on. More imagination is used if they have to make the scenery for themselves; this helps to draw the audience in. Also using a minimalist set saves the stage from becoming chaotic with props and clouding the performance.
There were certain props that were used that were essential, like chairs, as it would have been hard to mime sitting down for a long length of time. The lighting used was extremely successful as it captured the moments. Dark light was used as Hamlet followed his father’s ghost and when the ghost re-entered to his grave a strip of light was used as if pointing to his grave. A strip light was used around the outskirts of the stage, at the back, often lit in neon blue, but did change to red and purple. The characterisation of each actor was well balanced with each other, from the comic Polonius to the serious Horatio.
The language used was very difficult ot follow at times as Hamlet was spoke in old English, using old terminology and phrases, that aren’t used in this day and age. The stage was quite spacious and was obviously a huge part in the play, therefore the characters had to use the space ton their advantage, constantly moving around and delivering lines from various places. The effectiveness of this technique was to ensure that the audience were captivated as to where they were going to move to next, or what was going to happen next, if they hadn’t already seen the play before hand.
Each actor and their characters that they played used all parts of the stage. Facial expressions were a major factor for Hamlet to be a success and to gain high popularity, if not higher popularity. Each expression had to be delivered correctly and with correct timing so to have best co-ordination with the script and with the audience. The actors’ characters were very complex but the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) seemed to manage all right to create an astounding performance with the final result being highly creditable.
Facial expressions were what made the comical moments comical, the silent moments tense and the sad moments emotional, and each of them was revealed to the best possibilities of the actors’ abilities with great effect. The actor’s were never distinguishable as actors rather than their characters as they played the parts extremely well and never came out of character or fluffed any lines that were noticed. The costumes worn were very symbolic of the time period and the type of people that were being represented.
Gertrude wore the most spectacular dresses, always high necklines and lots of frills in a multitude of colours. I think this was to cover the fact that she had just lost her husband, the late Hamlet, and didn’t want to show that wanted and needed to mourn him. Hamlet wore very dull and dowdy clothing, as he was a social outcast from the rest of the people, except his sister and mother. His shirt and pants were torn, revealing dirty legs and arms. This kind of portrayal to the audience showed that Hamlet wasn’t suited to the royalty that everyone else led.
Polonius wore very loud clothing to accentuate the fact that his character was highly comic and his persona was light. He wore colours of gold and black and often purple. I think the gold showed that he was connected to the royal line in some form, as it was only a hint of gold on the hems or cuffs of the gowns that he wore. The ghost of late Hamlet was the most fascinating character for me as he hardly had any lines on stage, and off stage was the riveting line: ‘swear by the sword’ The way in which Greg Hicks played the character had an eerie quality, the way in which he moved added to the effect of being ghostly.