Monday, 25 October 2010

Denmark, Sheffield

The novel I’m working on (11,600 words and counting), the one I will submit as my final piece of coursework at the end of my Creative Writing MA, is about Shakespeare. Well, it’s about ‘Shakespeare’ actually, the idea, rather than the man, and about the difference between the two. So I’m seeing and reading as much of the Bard as I can. John Simm acted in The Lakes, Dr Who and Life On Mars. I’ve never seen those programmes but I liked his discrete role as Bernard Sumner in 24 Hour Party People. Aside from that I’m able to appreciate his role as Hamlet at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre with few preconceptions. He’s good. It takes him a little while to warm up, and lying sulkily on the ground while the grown-ups are talking cannot be done lightly post-David Tennant’s Hamlet. But he’s good. His strengths are actually the ensemble scenes over the ‘woe is me’ soliloquies, and there’s always too much pressure put on those pieces anyway. After all, this play is twice the length of Macbeth and, despite how it might sometimes seem, Hamlet isn’t talking all the time. It has one of the best Shakespearean women’s roles in Gertrude (and one of the most overrated in Ophelia) and some tremendous speeches you might have forgotten about. This is part of the ‘my thoughts be bloody’ speech when Hamlet is on his way to the ship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, about to be sent to England, or so they think:

What is a man,

If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unus’d. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward - I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake.

My Hamlet yardstick is still Michael Maloney in Yukio Ninagawa’s production at The Lowry, all Samurai overtones and sinister uplighting and Maloney’s sad eyes making a little boy of him when you least expected it. By the time ‘good night sweet prince’ hit I was a mess. Wonderful stuff. In February it’s the turn of Rory Kinnear to bring the Dane to The Lowry. I can’t wait.

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