So after a fun while of posting theatre reviews on this site, I started my own blog and sometimes I (I think a little rudely but no one has complained) come back to share theatre reviews, so here is my review of the BEST PLAY EVER, interspersed with excruciating and unbearable bloggish blather. In fact, Hamlet doesn't even get mentioned until about the seventh paragraph . . . .
Love from Swann
I really should be working on this play with a view to getting it into the Verity Bargate in March. I just have these small issues like marriage, parenting and employment to deal with. Ha ha ha ha ha. And i am trying to finish Anna Karenina, a book I always wanted to read and the subject of book club on Thursday night - two reading night's time. Luckily, work is neither busy nor demanding. Oh, no, sorry, work IS busy and demanding.
But I have been in touch with some people from Skadden recently. Fucking Skadden. And people think Mormonism is a dangerous cult. And an ex-Skadden survivor said I should mention something my son said to me the other day. We were talking about this book where a child nearly dies and his pastor father interprets what the child reports about the afterlife. Jesus has blue eyes, is one of the spoilers the kid blurts out. Actually, the heaven this kid described sucks, no place I would want to go, seriously harps and shit. (There were some cool things about Seraphim and Cherubim and Angels to be fair.) So I described this book to Owain and he listened and then patiently and confidently explained to me that God wasn't black or white or male or female or young or old or blue eyed or brown eyed. He is bigger than all that stuff.
And I was startled by the clarity of his answer so I asked who he learned that from and he said he learned it from me. Which was a relief, because I must be doing something right (Cue Julie Andrews in Sound of Music: I must have done something good.)
That's not even the most interesting thing Owain has said to me by a longshot. I always use my friend Teresa's Spanish saying at our house when I am pressed into service as a human search engine to run around the house to find socks and pom bears and Blackberries: Look with your eyes and not with your mouth.
So I told him to look with his eyes and not with his mouth for a ball he needed to retrieve one summer's night when he had been playing in his pyjamas with us and Liberty in the grass. And he said, "You know,"
And then he giggled.
"You know, the baby animals tell me (a vividly imagined retinue of miniature animals who are invisible and follow him around sometimes) that I should look with my HEART and not with my EYES. Because when you look with your heart, you see that everyone is the same, so everything is really confusing and funny. REALLY funny." And then he laughed.
That is my favorite one. He did not get the information from me. I am excited that at the heart of the truth of the universe there's some funny slapstick going on. This segueways nicely into Hamlet, which I saw at the National about ten days ago, what was dubbed the funny Hamlet. And Rory Kinnear finds a lot of jokes in that script and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet have some great site gags going themselves.
I loved every second of it. What I wasn't sure about was the through-line, the trope, the meme. It is a chalked smiley face with the label villain underneath. Hamlet turns a column into a blackboard to write it when he rants about the King. He later makes it into a t-shirt for the players and hands them out at the play. From there on in, everyone except the King at one time or another wears the t-shirt, labelling themselves, perhaps, as the villain of the moment. Ophelia dies wearing one, for surely her death sets Hamlet over the edge, and to his sanity, her act of suicide is villainous indeed.
In life I have found I whiplash in my own consideration from being the hero to being the villain and back. Certainly it is very hard to tell how other people see it. But Shakespeare, he saw it, and he showed it by creating narratives where people are constantly switching between being kings and being villains, murderers, sometimes within the same sentence.
What this smiley face tells me now, though, ten days after I saw the play is interesting. (Cue JD closing voice-over on Scrubs:) In the end, there is a chalk smiley face on a wall and that smiley face describes every one of us (for we are all the same) and underneath we can write hero or we can write villain. Hamlet wanted to write hero but people were not heroes to him, and he had to write villain and then had to live out his own t-shirt slogan. Even though, you know, he was a sweet, sweet prince.
The production at the National was just perfect. The King was Putin in appearance and mannerisms and the castle had a vaguely Eurotrashy gaudiness like new Russians in Surrey that I enjoyed. I really felt such a genuine thrill at hearing Polonius exhort his mixed race north London family "To thine own self be true". I was most moved by Hamlet's grasp on the players to try to move the king to shame and self-knowledge. He watches one of the players perform a piece (done so beautifully) about Hecuba, an queen of ancient Greece (driven insane by viewing the corpses of her children)(I know, ick.). And the player weeps. Hamlet says:
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing,
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.
What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba? They are each other, right? Well, at least according to my son's imaginary friends. That is the magic of the play, of any play, ah, dear me, I have the motive and the cue for passion myself. I need to get to work. And my mandate is also something that came from Hamlet :
the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and