David Tennant as Hamlet at the RSC

Tennanthamlet2 I suppose I should write something about the David Tennant Hamlet (no point in calling it the RSC 2008 Hamlet, or the Gregory Doran Hamlet, David Tennant is bigger than everything), which I saw on Monday of this week. But writing about Hamlet, probably the greatest work ever written in any medium, and blogging, are rather at opposite extremes of a spectrum in my opinion.

The production is good. It is very much a "David Tennant vehicle" Hamlet, but he's up to it. He's most convincing, magnetic even, in the first half, where his long, lean and pale looks are admirably suited to the grief and the horror of discovery of his father's death. This Hamlet is one torn between the old ways, epitomized by the old warrior father, and the modern, epitomized by the pin-stripe suited, suave Claudius (downplayed effectively by Patrick Stewart).

David Tennant is best when conveying emotion, which he does very well, and when being intellectually playful; the relish with which he demonstrates his quick-wittedness and superior intellect approaches pure brilliance. Hamlet is a character of so many facets, however, that it is probably impossible for one actor to master them all. Tennant, for example, is too self-centred. He does not indicate to us, the audience, whether or not he's aware that Polonius and Claudius are eavesdropping on his "get thee to a nunnery" encounter with Ophelia, which detracts from the scene, the poignancy of her death and his later reaction to it. He is also not one of the most poetical Hamlets I've seen – but is very confident and natural with the lines, unlike some others.

I also take issue with the staging. We had good seats near the front in the middle, but too often, bit-part actors stood for long minutes with their back to the audience watching the action, blocking the sight-lines. I could not see Gertrude (the superb Penny Downie) at all during her moving speech about Ophelia's death, for example, and there were several similar instances.

The audience of course were ecstatic. At the end everyone stood up and cheered for a very long time. One enterprising person threw red roses at Tennant. Two of them were well-enough aimed to reach him, so he put one inbetween his teeth and presented the other, with a flourish, to Gertrude.

It was a good production, with the usual (for the RSC) excellent supporting cast, particularly John Woodvine as a (severely cut) Player King. David Tennant was damn good, occasionally lapsing into a touch of the matinee idol in the second half but turning in a sincere, committed performance with lots of physical action, revelling in his youth, pitifully anguished in the passionate Gertrude bedroom scene, full of grace and agility in the climactic final fights. London is in for a treat next year when the production (already sold out) transfers there.

RSC website on this production.

BBC review of the production.

Guardian review of the production with links to other reviews and Hamlet material.

David Tennant's website, explains why he is famous, adored by many, more about his interpretation of Hamlet, lots of pictures, etc. 

One thought on “David Tennant as Hamlet at the RSC

  1. We had similar problems with the staging for Love’s Labour’s Lost, especially as my hearing is a bit weak so I couldn’t hear very well when the actors were facing away from us. As we were near where the curtain would be (if it were not a tree!) this happened quite a lot. Still well worth going to.

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