Tag Archives: Theatre

Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in the Theatre

5 Sep

“Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in the Theatre” is written by Alexandra Kitty and published by MX Publishing. The book is a fascinating look at Sherlock Holmes on stage, ranging from William Gillette’s play through to modern plays by the likes of David MacGregor and Bert Coules.

The book is broken into chapters including such topics as Sherlock Holmes on Broadway and theatrical adaptations of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

Of particular interest to me was the look at the various characters and who has played them on stage.

The book is well researched with extensive source notes at the end of the book.

Alexandra Kitty has written an excellent, one might almost say definitive, book on a subject that is rarely covered in any depth.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of Sherlock Holmes and also theatrical history. The book is available directly from MX Publishing: https://mxpublishing.com/products/the-dramatic-moment-of-fate-the-life-of-sherlock-holmes-in-the-theatre?_pos=1&_sid=4bc2282c1&_ss=r

My thanks to Steve Emecz at MX Publishing for the review copy.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet

25 Aug

I was fortunate enough when I was in London to have a ticket to one of the previews of “Hamlet”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

This isn’t going to be a review of the play.  Enough unqualified people have shoved their oar into that particular pond without me now shoving mine into the morass.  This is my impression of Benedict in what has become an iconic role.

I, like so many others, discovered Benedict via the BBC show “Sherlock”.  It was obvious from the first episode that here was an actor of incredible talent.  Apart from “Sherlock”, I have since watched Benedict in other things, my favourite being both versions of Nick Dear’s play “Frankenstein”, which really made me wish I could see Benedict live on stage.  I got that chance on 12th August 2015.

The role of Hamlet is one that really tests the mettle of an actor.  Apart from the final scene, the majority of the play’s drama rests on the shoulders of this one actor.  It is a role that can make an actor’s reputation, or sink him without trace.  Sir Derek Jacobi was my favourite Hamlet.  After seeing what Benedict did with the role, I now have a new definitive Hamlet.  The one I hear and see in my mind’s eye whenever I read the play, which is a lot.

Benedict’s Hamlet is a brilliantly conflicted character.  Hamlet starts off quiet and gentle, playing records and gently grieving, and then Benedict’s energy just explodes onto the stage, leaving the audience breathless.

Hamlet’s madness taking the form of a return to childhood was a perfect touch, as far as I was concerned.  The psychological return to a happier time when his father was alive and Hamlet a mere boy, gave the madness a poignancy that is often lacking in productions of the play.

Benedict, thankfully, played down the often incestuous overtones of Hamlet’s relationship with his mother Gertrude.  Those scenes have always made me feel slightly nauseous.  Thankfully, there is no hint of an Oedipus Complex in this production.

Benedict handles the extremes of the play with a deft hand.  From the madness, to the bawdy humour, to the anguish and anger of revenge, to grieving for Ophelia, Benedict never gives less than his whole heart.  One line, “O vengeance!”, cried from the depths of Hamlet’s soul, quite literally made the hair on the back on my neck stand up.

Benedict’s handling of Hamlet is, I hesitate to use the word perfection, but to me that is what it is.  He creates a Hamlet that aligns completely with my personal vision of the character.

Benedict is such a powerful actor with an enormous stage presence that television and film mute quite a bit.  You can tell he’s a good actor on screen, but it takes seeing him perform on stage to get a real measure of his brilliance.

As Luck Would Have It

24 Jun

Sir Derek Jacobi has been a favourite actor of mine ever since I saw him in the BBC production of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

His autobiography “As Luck Would Have It” is as warm and as sweet as you would expect from this lovely man.

He is open and honest about his career and his personal problems, but at no point does he invite you to feel sorry for him.  It’s very much “this is me; this is what happened”.  No excuses and no bullshit.

“As Luck Would Have It” is also chock-a-block with delightful theatrical anecdotes and bon mots.  I was reduced to helpless giggles many times during my reading of the book.

In many ways “As Luck Would Have It” is a throwback to the old style of theatrical memoir.  It has a warm, friendly feel to it, lots of wonderful stories, and no decorating of other actor’s shoulder blades with metaphorical knife hilts, as has become so common in recent years.

His recollections of the four times he played Hamlet make for wonderful reading for any dedicated Shakespeare aficionado.

I can’t recommend “As Luck Would Have It” highly enough.  I think it would be of particular interest to those interested in English theatre, the early days of the National Theatre, those who enjoy a good, old fashioned memoir, and fans of Sir Derek.

Thoughts on the Casting & Staging of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

18 Jun

I have been giving quite a lot of thought of late to next year’s production of “Hamlet” at the Barbican with Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet.  Not just to Benedict in the role, but as to who would be my ideal casting in other roles.  Not all of the roles, but roles I see as needing good rapport between the actors.

I know Benedict will be brilliant as Hamlet.  He has an aura of brooding intensity that is just perfect for the doomed Danish prince.  My thoughts on a few other people in some of the other roles follow.

Gertrude: The role of Hamlet’s treacherous mother is an important one.  The Oedipal angst in the mother/son relationship can make or break the play.  My perfect Gertrude to Benedict’s Hamlet would be Dame Helen Mirren.  Old enough for the role, but convincingly desirable as the Shakespearean “yummy mummy”.  Failing the availability of Dame Helen, I think Dame Judi Dench would also be fantastic in the role.  We saw how good her rapport is with Benedict at Hay on Wye earlier this month.

Claudius: No offense to Sir Patrick Stewart, but please can we not see him again as Claudius?  I think he’s played Claudius as many times as Sir Derek Jacobi has played Hamlet.  I can see Roger Allam as Hamlet’s uncle/stepfather in this production.  He has the necessary mix of gravitas and sneakiness to be a wonderful Claudius.  My other choice would be Gary Oldman.  I would love to see just what he would make of the part.

Polonius: Well known as Shakespeare’s most pompous windbag.  However, without carefully handling, he can also be a frightful bore.  Polonius needs a delicate touch.  To my mind Mark Gatiss would be the perfect Polonius.  Think Mycroft without the edge of menace.  Tony Head would also make a wonderful Polonius.  Think Rupert Giles without the intelligence.

Ophelia: I know Ophelia is pivotal to the play, but the character bores me.  She and Desdemona have the dubious distinction of being Shakespeare’s wettest, most irritating, heroines.  Having said that, I would like to see what Naomi Harris, who played Elizabeth to Benedict’s Victor in “Frankenstein”, could do with the role.

Horatio: Whilst not the largest role in the play, I consider Horatio one of the most important.  He is Hamlet’s truest friend.  He never wavers in his friendship, even when Hamlet has apparently gone insane.  The strongest rapport between actors in this play has to be between those playing Hamlet and Horatio.  To that end I would like to see Martin Freeman in the role.  We know just how damn strong the rapport is between Benedict and Martin.  This is probably, however, the least likely casting, more’s the pity.

I’ve also given some thought to the staging.  I am really hoping that they don’t opt for a modern setting.  I have nothing against Shakespeare in modern settings, but it’s too soon after the RSC version with David Tennant as Hamlet.  I want Benedict to shine in his own right, not be compared endlessly to David, which is exactly what will happen if the staging is modern.

I have several suggestions about the staging:

Traditional: Stick to the doublet and hose.  At worst Benedict will be compared to Sir Derek Jacobi and Lord Olivier.

Future: All neon lights, tight leather and metal studs.  Think “Hamlet” in the world of “Blake’s 7”.  It could work.

Past: Joking with a friend when this production was first mooted, I suggested that the setting should be neolithic.  She shrieked in horror, but on further reflection it could work.  Elsinore as a cave system not a palace.  The cast clad in animal skins, and flint topped spears and clubs as weapons.

Whatever the casting and the staging, I do know that next year’s production of “Hamlet” at the Barbican will be one hell of a theatrical experience.

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