Date: 8th January 2009 | Venue: Novello Theatre,
Author: Nick Curtis | The Evening Standard
David Tennant's triumphant return for the last week of performances of his RSC Hamlet proves his tenacity. The Dr Who star
faced down snipers and doubters when he first returned to Stratford, and the company where he first made his name, to play
the Dane last year.
Invalided out of the sold-out London run by a severe spine injury, he could just have kicked back and convalesced. But
whether or not his back is better, Tennant is back, and his performance is better than ever.
There is a core of truth to this Hamlet with which Tennant only occasionally loses touch. He plays the prince from the
start as an unstable man-boy, sharp but prone to mood swings and histrionics. He’s a case of arrested development, clearly
unfit to rule and smart enough to know it. This makes brilliant sense of Hamlet’s inability to avenge his murdered father,
or feel lasting remorse for Polonius’s murder or Ophelia’s death, because everything is always about him and his
The lithe, manic physicality of Tennant’s performance hasn’t been affected. Last night I still found some of
his early anguish forced and his later “madness” close to Time Lord showboating. But in the soliloquies he is
magnetic, rightly confident of his ability to make an audience share his pain, while also being one of the wittiest Hamlets
I’ve seen. And it seems bitchy to quibble in the face of Tennant’s commitment to Shakespeare, and the new audiences
he must surely have brought in.
He’s supported here by an excellent cast including Patrick Stewart as a silkily conniving Claudius and Edward Bennett,
the understudy who covered for him, now back in the role of Laertes.
Gregory Doran’s production is full of detail
and nuance, while still delivering all the bombastic flourish — dry ice, chandeliers, frocks! — typical of the
RSC. But this is David Tennant’s show. I hope he, and those lucky enough already to have tickets for the last few performances,
Until 10 January. Sold out: queue for returns on the door.
Date: 8th January 2009 | Venue: The Novello Theatre,
Author: Charles Spencer | The Telegraph
I don’t want to sound like one of the over-excited schoolgirls who have been besieging the stage door, but I have
become a serious, indeed devoted fan of David Tennant.
Having established himself as indisputably the best Dr Who since Tom Baker, it suggested real ambition when he accepted
the role of Hamlet with the RSC at Stratford. And no sooner had he opened in that, than he began rehearsals for one of the
leading roles in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Such labours took their toll however, and all was indeed almost lost. Tennant was forced to bow out of the sold-out London
run of Hamlet before the official first night last month, suffering from a chronic back injury. When it was revealed that
he was suffering from a prolapsed disc requiring surgery, I was convinced that he wouldn’t return to the show, and would
leave his plucky understudy Edward Bennett to complete the run which ends this Saturday.
So hats off to Tennant for sheer pluck and grit. And hats off, too, to a performance that has grown magnificently in stature.
Although I greatly admired the wit and mercurial intelligence of Tennant’s Hamlet in Stratford last summer, I found
it somewhat lacking in emotional depth, while the spiritual insight that Hamlet seems to acquire in the last act was largely
missing. This was a hugely entertaining and sympathetic Hamlet, but I had a hunch that with more performances under his belt,
and the willingness to dig deeper emotionally, Tennant might just enter the pantheon of truly great Hamlets.
And so, indeed he has. Betraying almost no sign of pain or stiffness in a performance of great physical vitality, Tennant
now really plumbs the depths of this greatest of dramatic roles. The sardonic humour, and the palpable humanity we have come
to know and love from Dr Who are present and correct.
What has been added is a sense of dramatic weight and detail.
During the superbly delivered soliloquies, we seem to follow every twist and turn of Hamlet’s racing mind, every
flicker of emotion, doubt and discomfort. For all the humour, and this Hamlet’s delight in mocking and imitating those
he despises, Tennant also communicates a deeply touching sense of grief and loneliness, as he battles against depression and
the need to take a revenge for which he is temperamentally unfitted.
The closet scene, when he violently confronts his mother with her own lust and sin, blazes with an emotional rawness that
is almost too painful to watch. But in the last act, when Hamlet comes face to face with death in the graveyard, Tennant beautifully
and movingly suggests a man who has finally thrown off despair and achieved a degree of serenity and spiritual acceptance
of human mortality.
With not a single weak performance in the supporting roles, and a modern-dress staging by Gregory Doran that achieves the
hurtling intensity of a thriller, this is now without doubt one of the finest productions of Hamlet I have ever seen, led
by an actor of extraordinary courage and charisma who has made a persuasive claim to true greatness.
Date: 8th January 2009 | Venue: Novello Theatre,
Author: Sarah Hemming | The Financial Times
Regular readers of the arts pages may recall that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet
had its official London opening last month without its leading man, David Tennant. The understudy, Edward Bennett, stepped
into the role at the eleventh hour. The production survived remarkably well, Bennett acquitted himself with tremendous credit
and the result vindicated the RSC’s emphasis on ensemble work.
Now, after surgery, Tennant has returned for the final few days of the run, so a review can be for the record
only. But this is the London staging as it was intended, and so worth documenting – particularly as, with Tennant at
the helm, the production is even better: surely one of the best Hamlet
s of the age.
Tennant makes a superb Hamlet: mercurial, damaged, perhaps not mad but certainly depressed. He begins still and thin, frozen
with grief, his arms hugged around him as if holding himself together. When he delivers “Oh that this too too solid
flesh would melt”, he sinks to the floor, dissolving into tears, as if weeping might bring the words to pass. But once
spurred into supposed action by the ghost’s visitation, he becomes driven by manic energy, lurching from sharp humour
to passionate loathing and self-recrimination.
Tennant emphasises the feverish intelligence of the prince, helps you to see how Hamlet’s intellect is both his blessing
and his curse, and, with his simple, direct delivery of the soliloquies, draws us into Hamlet’s troubled mind, so that
his moral and metaphysical uncertainty meets our own.
Because Tennant’s Hamlet is charismatic, wily and unpredictable, the reaction of the court rings true, particularly
that of Patrick Stewart’s Claudius, who reads Hamlet’s intent. Stewart is excellent: cold, calculating, his first
thought always pragmatic. So too is Penny Downie’s Gertrude, torn apart by her son’s distress, and Oliver Ford
Davies as Polonius, bamboozled by Hamlet’s quick wit. Bennett, back as Laertes, makes a wonderful, impetuous foil to
But Gregory Doran’s beautifully shaded production, on Rob Jones’s elegant, mirrored set, also lets us sympathise
with these characters and doubt Hamlet’s worship of his father. It is not flawless – the end could be more moving
– but this fine production constantly reminds us just what a great and complex play this is. It would be good to think
that, given its journey, it will have have a further life, whether on stage or screen, for it shows the RSC at its best.
Date: 8th January 2009 | Venue: Novello Theatre,
Author: Robert McCrum | The Guardian
Is there a hotter ticket in town than David Tennant's Hamlet? I bought good dress circle seats last summer, the minute
the RSC box office opened, and have endured a roller coaster of anticipation ever since.
First the anxieties. Would the production be just a TV celebrity vehicle besieged by teenage Whovians? Then the first night.
Was Tennant up to the challenge? (Yes, apparently this Hamlet was the real thing.) Next, the news of Tennant's spinal surgery.
Would he return? Was Edward Bennett a worthy understudy? Did it matter ? Isn't the RSC an ensemble company equal to such vicissitudes?
Then the to-and-fro of Tennant's return. The company issued a press release: mindful of its star's convalescence, it was proceeding
on a day-by-day basis. Friends and co-workers reported the latest news: yes, he was back, and better than ever. Charlotte
Higgins raved in the Guardian, Nick Curtis in the Standard … The suspense was unbearable. Finally, last night, clutching
a £37.50 ticket probably worth £1,000 on the black market, my friends and I filed out of the bitter chill of January London
into the Novello. Was it possible to get past the drama of the long wait to the play? Could we just enjoy the show for itself?
First things first. Greg Doran's production has a rare and compelling clarity. It grips from the first line and makes almost
complete sense of a notoriously tricky script. From many corrupt and competing folios the director has developed a text that
moves (I'd forgotten this) with astonishing speed towards Hamlet's first great speech in act 1, scene 2 ("O that this too
too solid flesh …"). The audience was rapt. You could have heard a pin drop. This was theatre at its most bewitching:
a great play, a great actor and a great production. Thereafter, the first half was almost flawless and utterly spellbinding.
If there were false notes, they came from the cast's occasional mugging to the audience: it's been a long run, and at times
that showed. In general though, the RSC, led by Patrick Stewart (Claudius), Penny Downie (Gertrude) and Oliver Ford Davies
(Polonius) was superb, and their attention to nice detail impeccable.
One big question with Hamlet is where to have the interval break. After the play-within-a-play scene (act 3, scene 2)?
After the death of Polonius in the bedroom scene with Gertrude (act 3, scene 4)? This production – wrongly, in my view
– breaks in the middle of Hamlet's discovery of Claudius at prayer ("Now might I do it pat …", act 3, scene 3)
and taking a leaf out of Rupert Goold's Macbeth, restarts the second half with a reprise of the same scene.
In the best productions, the final two acts should be a vertiginous descent into murder, mayhem and revenge – the
death of Polonius, the madness and death of Ophelia, Hamlet's escape from death in England, the confrontation with Laertes
and finally the great onstage fight at court, after which, on a stage strewn with bodies, Fortinbras restores order and sanity.
I have to say that this was not achieved here. The second half stumbled, and finally petered out, with the necessary catharsis
not fully experienced. The death of Polonius was botched; Ophelia's madness (an impossible role) was not good. The gravedigger
scene went on too long. And the bloody climax was disappointing, without energy. You sensed that Tennant was not fully fit
for the fight.
Still, for all that, we came out into the nipping and eager air of the Aldwych at about 11 o'clock conscious of having
seen the best and most intelligent Hamlet of recent times; if not a rival to Olivier (who, now, can recall that performance
anyway?) then quite the equal of Jonathan Pryce's memorable version at the Royal Court in 1980. David Tennant is a superb
actor and he was supported by one of the best RSC ensembles in living memory. I think I was lucky to see theatrical history
in the making.