Here’s a report on how I spent last Saturday, wherein combat veterans do Hamlet, Martin Freeman gets covered in stage blood, and Kit Marlowe is the reason you should go see Shakespeare in Love on the stage.
Last Saturday (July 12), I spent an excellent day or at the theatre, seeing three plays in a day.
The first was a free event at the Globe: the Combat Veterans Players’ production of Hamlet. I couldn’t possibly turn this down, given it was a free Hamlet, and I enjoyed it a lot. There were only six actors so there was a lot of doubling up – one that I especially enjoyed was a male actor doubling Gertrude and Rosencrantz. My man Laertes was also great, going from outrage when he first comes back to ending up crying by Ophelia’s grave on the floor with Horatio on top of him, which I thought was amazing. The actor playing Horatio also doubled as Polonius, which shouldn’t have worked but did.
I was let down a little because some of my favourite lines were cut. Ophelia especially got a lot of her text shortened. The overall story was more about the war and politics than the personal tragedies, so it fitted with the production but not always with my personal preferences. On the whole I’m glad I went, and I hope the players had a good experience doing this! It must be quite the thing to be on that famous stage.
The second play I saw was Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, with Martin Freeman as Richard.
It is not a play or a part of history that I am very familiar with – I watched the Ian McKellen film recently and found it very accessible. This production, unfortunately less so, because I also have very little knowledge of British modern history. Being a non-Brit has its drawbacks. However the programme helped with the context a little bit.
Not to say I didn’t have a good time – I loved Martin’s performance and the fight choreography towards the end. He played Richard as unapologetically evil, but the problem I sometimes had was that he can say everything with a facial expression and so the text is a bit superfluous. Well, I say problem. Looking at that face is never going to be a hardship, is it?
I also loved the sense that people underestimate him because of his disability, which came through amazingly at the end, when he overpowers three grown men who have use of all their limbs without much visible difficulty.
Must also mention Buckingham, who was amazing in an understated sort of way.
On the whole, though, it didn’t do that much for me – there were a lot of good elements but I got lost in it too much to really fully appreciate it.
The final act took place at the Noel Coward theatre, where I saw Shakespeare in Love with my friend Kristina. I was a bit nervous about this one because I have such stupid amounts of love for the film, but I needn’t have feared. I tweeted about it already a great deal but it really was fantastic.
My favourite thing was what they did with Kit Marlowe’s character, because that is one thing I always feel the film could have done so much more with. They greatly expanded his part and showed him as Will’s best buddy and quite probably he’s also got a bit of a hard-on for his fellow poet seeing as, for example, here’s how the balcony scene goes down: Will and Kit blag their way into the De Lesseps party, then Will talks to Viola WHILE KIT IS WATCHING and heckling. Viola asks Will for a sonnet, and Kit dictates him the entire ‘Shall I compare thee’ line for line, then helps him climb the balcony and at some point when Will is talking to Viola, he’s on the ground GROANING “yes, very good.”
This also lends Kit’s death much more emotional impact than it has in the film – Will goes to Viola in utter distress, rips up his plays and says everything is worthless now that Kit is gone and he will never write again, to which she responds “but is this what Kit would have wanted?”
He’s also a lot more sexually fluid than in the film and wears a VERY short doublet to play Romeo, which I enjoyed. Because you can’t show that much sex on stage, his relationship with Viola comes across as more of an intellectual than a carnal passion. And then there’s a jig at the end and Kit (or his ghost) comes back to finish the play, which again, BRILLIANT choice because it brings Will down to earth and saves us from voiceovers. It really worked for me as a translation from one medium to the other, it was a brilliant box of delights and I’d recommend it a lot.