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‘The play’s the thing’: Hamlet at the National TheatreIn the programme that accompanies the current production of Hamlet, Peter Holland informs us that ‘Stalin did not like Hamlet’ adding, by way of an explanation that ‘Plays about assassinating the ruler were not recommended under a dictatorship’. A few years ago Rupert Goold directed Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) as a tyrannical despot, a man who delegated the murder of his enemies to his henchmen. In this current Hamlet Patrick Malahide’s Claudius, although a consummate, slick statesman on the surface, is a similar kind of usurping king, who rules Denmark like as a police state. Whether or not it is intentional, he even resembles Vladimir Putin (who once controlled the USSR’s KGB) with his slim build and balding head. Clare Higgins, as Gertrude and the widow of the late king, is a woman used to playing the role of queen. But whether life, or just her bereavement and recent ‘o’erhasty marriage’, have now taken their toll, she is rather fond of unwinding with a glass of whisky in her hand. This Queen of Denmark is a mature woman, who gradually becomes suspicious of her new husband; before Hamlet visits her in her closet she has already thrown a few distrustful glances at Claudius. Despite her protestations to the contrary, this Gertrude most definitely sees her late husband when he appears in her closet after the murder of Polonius: her eyes are wide open to both brothers. Given the surveillance society that is presented at the palace of Elsinore, Gertrude’s misgivings are justified. Men wearing dark suits, with earpieces clearly visible, lurk in all corners of the stage, often talking into contraptions on their wrists. A young prince, recently and suddenly bereaved, could easily suffer delusions of paranoia in such a household. You could certainly offer Hamlet forgiveness for his callous instructions to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bumped off in such a dog-eat-dog suspicious society. Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet is a mature student through and through; his bedroom is a tip and he hides under his duvet (with no cover on it) fully clothed and wearing his trainers. He is miserable and depressed over his father’s sudden death and his mother’s remarriage to her brother-in-law and this psychological state of mind gives impetus to his ‘madness’. His mood changes frequently from unhappiness to anger and aggression and his soliloquies reveal a great amount of introspection and self-analysis. He is rough with Ophelia, disrespectful to his mother and insolent towards Claudius. In a surveillance culture where even Ophelia’s book is bugged and Polonius and Claudius appear wearing headphones, as they listen in to the lovers’ conversation, he appears to trust nobody. There is most definitely something rotten in Nicholas Hytner’s Denmark, and this corruption infects all those whom it touches. Russell Jackson also contributes to the programme notes and discusses various past productions of Hamlet that have tried to locate the play in their own times. Although this staging was formulated before the current WikiLeaks revelations it collides with them by portraying a country run by a corrupt, murderous regime, just as Putin’s Russia has recently been equated with a ‘mafia state’. Claudius orders Hamlet’s murder in the play, and Hytner’s direction for the National Theatre also shows a pair of suspicious dark-suited men abducting Ophelia prior to the report of her death by drowning. (Perhaps this could explain why Gertrude seems so knowledgeable about Ophelia’s gathering of ‘her weedy trophies’.) Although post Cold War Russia is considered to be a democracy, we still view it with suspicion in the West, especially when we recall the mysterious deaths of Georgi Markov and Alexander Litvinenkof. I found this current production of Hamlet gripping and thought provoking and highly recommend it as the best I have seen. I wonder what Putin would make of it?

Published 16/12/2010 by damselwithadulcimer

In the programme that accompanies the current production of Hamlet, Peter Holland informs us that ‘Stalin did not like Hamlet’ adding, by way of an explanation that ‘Plays about assassinating the ruler were not recommended under a dictatorship’.  A few years ago Rupert Goold directed Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) as a tyrannical despot, a man who delegated the murder of his enemies to his henchmen.  In this current Hamlet Patrick Malahide’s Claudius, although a consummate, slick statesman on the surface, is a similar kind of usurping king, who rules Denmark like as a police state.  Whether or not it is intentional, he even resembles Vladimir Putin (who once controlled the USSR’s KGB) with his slim build and balding head.

 

Clare Higgins, as Gertrude and the widow of the late king, is a woman used to playing the role of queen.  But whether life, or just her bereavement and recent ‘o’erhasty marriage’, have now taken their toll, she is rather fond of unwinding with a glass of whisky in her hand.  This Queen of Denmark is a mature woman, who gradually becomes suspicious of her new husband; before Hamlet visits her in her closet she has already thrown a few distrustful glances at Claudius.  Despite her protestations to the contrary, this Gertrude most definitely sees her late husband when he appears in her closet after the murder of Polonius: her eyes are wide open to both brothers.  Given the surveillance society that is presented at the palace of Elsinore, Gertrude’s misgivings are justified.  Men wearing dark suits, with earpieces clearly visible, lurk in all corners of the stage, often talking into contraptions on their wrists.  A young prince, recently and suddenly bereaved, could easily suffer delusions of paranoia in such a household.  You could certainly offer Hamlet forgiveness for his callous instructions to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bumped off in such a dog-eat-dog suspicious society.

Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet is a mature student through and through; his bedroom is a tip and he hides under his duvet (with no cover on it) fully clothed and wearing his trainers.  He is miserable and depressed over his father’s sudden death and his mother’s remarriage to her brother-in-law and this psychological state of mind gives impetus to his ‘madness’.  His mood changes frequently from unhappiness to anger and aggression and his soliloquies reveal a great amount of introspection and self-analysis.  He is rough with Ophelia, disrespectful to his mother and insolent towards Claudius.  In a surveillance culture where even Ophelia’s book is bugged and Polonius and Claudius appear wearing headphones, as they listen in to the lovers’ conversation, he appears to trust nobody.  There is most definitely something rotten in Nicholas Hytner’s Denmark, and this corruption infects all those whom it touches.

Russell Jackson also contributes to the programme notes and discusses various past productions of Hamlet that have tried to locate the play in their own times.  Although this staging was formulated before the current WikiLeaks revelations it collides with them by portraying a country run by a corrupt, murderous regime, just as Putin’s Russia has recently been equated with a ‘mafia state’.  Claudius orders Hamlet’s murder in the play, and Hytner’s direction for the National Theatre also shows a pair of suspicious dark-suited men abducting Ophelia prior to the report of her death by drowning.  (Perhaps this could explain why Gertrude seems so knowledgeable about Ophelia’s gathering of ‘her weedy trophies’.)  Although post Cold War Russia is considered to be a democracy, we still view it with suspicion in the West, especially when we recall the mysterious deaths of Georgi Markov and Alexander Litvinenkof.

I found this current production of Hamlet gripping and thought provoking and highly recommend it as the best I have seen.  I wonder what Putin would make of it?

Another series of Mad Men finished

Published 16/04/2010 by damselwithadulcimer

The final episode of the third series of Mad Men came to our screens on Wednesday night, and then finished, leaving me hungry for more.

I’ve watched since the first episode.  Initally I was happy to ride the wave of nostalgia and relived my secretarial days (a good few years after the period setting of Mad Men).  In the 1970s I worked in open plan offices, where the secretary’s desk was positioned outside the door to her boss’s office.  I used an IBM Golfball typewriter and used to enjoy the sound of the ‘golfball’ as it spun its way across a page of type: the reverberation was very different from that of a conventional electric typewriter.  I’m not so sure that I remember the miasma of smoke hanging around the workplace, as it does over the offices of Sterling Cooper, nor was I aware of a heavy drinking culture.  But I do remember the extended business lunches, all enjoyed and paid for by lavish expense accounts – probably because I booked the restaurants and handled the receipts afterwards.

I’ve wallowed in the detail paid to the fashions and make up of the Mad Men years.  I’ve since learned that the actresses all wear genuine 1960s underwear so that the clothes on top hang correctly and achieve the proper shapes.  They are also not allowed to work out, as that would have been unheard of during that period.  Watching BBC Victorian costume dramas is part escapism, part recreation of classic novels, but, for me, watching Mad Men is like Proust’s memories.  I’m reminded of my early years and recall them with a mixture of nostalgia and longing.

The three series so far are not just an aesthetic reminder of an era that has now passed, but they are also a small snippet of the Western World’s social history from the end of the 1950s until, at this point, the end of 1963.  We can view the wider picture and gain a gradual awareness of the germinating seeds of the women’s liberation movement, but the stories are personal, as well as political.  We watch Peggy develop from secretary to advertising copy writer, from pregnant single mother (who gives up her child) to a woman who wants to join the advertising world on a man’s terms.  On the other hand Betty, the stay-at-home ice blond wife and mother to Don Draper and his children, tires of his philandering and his constant affairs and seeks a divorce.  These two woman, from different sides of the social spectrum, and living different lives, both exist as metaphors for the advancing women’s lib movement.  Likewise does Joan, the sexy office redhead, who is re-employed and recognised for her business assets, not just for her feminine curves.

Balanced against these females is the enigmatic, maverick Don.  Throughout the three series we have had the dramatic irony over Betty, and have known that he is living a false life.  The flashbacks we’ve been afforded have shown us his poverty stricken boyhood during the Great Depression, the theft of a dead comrade’s identity during the Korean war and his reincarnation as Don Draper.  He is a fragmented, schizophrenic (not in the mentally unstable sense) man, who cannot keep a hold on his excesses.  His flashbacks have all but ceased, but during the last episode they have begun to return as his marriage and his working life have started to break down.

During the final episode Sterling Cooper is threatened with a take over, but the senior players in the company pre-empt the company that will buy them out, resign and set up their own new advertising agency, taking with them the cream of their co-employees.  Don agrees to grant Betty a peaceful divorce so that she can marry the new man in her life and Peggy negotiates a working contract, on her own terms.  She makes it clear that she may be a woman, but she is no longer Don’s puppy.  We leave the new advertising agency working out of a single hotel room and now eagerly await the developments of series 4.

Introduction

Published 09/04/2010 by damselwithadulcimer

Why not set up my own blog? Here goes:

I’m not really a damsel with a dulcimer, but anybody reading this who has a love of English Literature, and particularly the Romantic poets, will understand the allusion. I could possibly have called myself Ode to Autumn as I’ve chosen such an autumnal theme.

I hope to set down my personal thoughts and feelings about literature (my great love), the theatre, art and the arts. But I’ll also be adding titbits, such as any recipes I feel might be worth sharing.