And last night the answer was, unfortunately, ‘not’. As has been widely reported, David Tennant has had to pull out of his acclaimed and rapidly sold-out performance of Hamlet in London until at least Christmas. For those of us who had been excitedly waiting to see the man himself in action, having been fortunate enough to get tickets in the few hours they were available, this was a bit of a blow. Thankfully, the rest of the amazing cast put on a show that will not soon be forgotten, and his under-study – thrust unexpectedly into the limelight before a London audience for an extended run – does a bang up job. He’s not Tennant, although at times you feel from his mannerisms he’s trying to be, but Edward Bennet carries of a complex role with aplomb.
Aye, the play’s the thing, and all the world’s a stage. So what of it? The stage opens dark and mysterious, lit just by the lights of the soldiers on the battlements, and it is then you notice that the entire stage is semi-mirrored as the soldiers’ lights bounce off the ground onto their faces. This amazing setup is used to great effect throughout the play, with minimal stage furniture and subtle lighting you are transported to a gothic castle at various times of the day. The huge mirrored panels at the rear rotate, allowing people to enter and exeunt at various times in different ways – and semi-mirrored glass gives us the necessary arras to hide behind. Later, the rear glass itself becomes even more of an actor – refelecting the sudden death of a key character. I feel that we were lucky in the Grand Circle – seats C11/12 – in that we literally had a perfect view down onto this mirrored stage, seeing the actors from both sides is grabbing and makes you appreciate what can be done on stage.
Against this stunning scenery, the players are caringly lit as they deliver characters with such precision and emotional force that you’re swept along. Patrick Stewart’s Claudius is at times the caring father, at others the malevolent plotter, and at all points believable. Polonius, played by Oliver Ford Davis is a revelation – a stumbling buffon who mutters and loses words that can still be heard across the auditorium (thankfully unlike the time he has to stage whisper words to Laertes stand-in). Hamlet’s mother Gertrude was engagingly played by Penny Downie, capturing to full effect her concerns about Hamlet’s mind and soul. Strong players all, and the only flat spots seem to be where the understudies are having to find their feet suddenly as all the roles shift. So what of the biggest shift? Our new Hamlet was spot on – word perfect and emotionally ranging. Perhaps he’s not quite as mercurial as we would have expected Tennant to be, but he’s starting to make the role his own – and hopefully by the end of his run he will have done so. Even at such short notice he delivers the goods. Encore!
So, to David – get well soon, we hope to see you on stage somewhere somewhen. To the rest of the performers – thank you for popping my Hamlet cherry with a stunning show.