Rooftop has been producing Shakespeare plays for over twelve years and we have covered eleven of his works. What made us decide on Hamlet as our next play?
Hamlet is considered a great challenge, of course for the lead actor and also for the directors, being over three hours in many productions, and it is iconic for some. However, we have never treated Shakespeare with undue reverence, have been robust with our interpretations and crucially, always been ready to cut and trim. For previous productions we have removed and shortened scenes, amalgamated characters, eliminated unnecessary diversions and brought a firm chopper to “hilarious” word play (unless we managed something ingeniously physical with it).
Therefore we could confidently take on this lengthy play and reduce it to around two hours.
To cut or not to cut
What about some of the iconic stuff? Could we trim his speeches, or remove whole celebrated ones? That does feel close to the fire - one can almost feel the hot angry breath of the purists. But we have done this before and no one complained. We brought Henry V down to two hours - full of pace and pathos - and removed chunks of Much Ado, Merry Wives and the Dream. The plots still had integrity and if anyone noticed, they didn’t say.
Shakespeare does contain padding or filler, put in by the author or compiled by his editors from script versions to provide time for scene or costume changes. Some characters do seem invented for the purpose of ensuring employment of his corps of actors. There is no doubt that in a modern interpretation, we could be courageous and robust in trimming the Dane down to size.
Comedy history romance tragedy
Since moving to Ludlow in 2013 we have put on a comedy, a history and a late romance (The Comedy of Errors, Henry V and The Tempest). Now it felt right to tackle a tragedy. The Tempest had much humour and was quite an ethereal production about entrapment in the physical mystery of an island. Now it was time to explore the mystery of the mind and create a psychodrama about Hamlet’s emotions, motivations and thought processes.
There are a number of Hamlets around at the moment and this can be an advantage. Celebrated recently has been Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation. He was powerful and energised but lacked vulnerability. It was all “acted”, very professionally, but he was a little too close to the privileged posh boy playing the difficult prince.
There will be an RSC production running at the same time ours and no doubt several others in this 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s death. We hope that this won’t diminish our audience. There may be a buzz about Hamlet and the publicity about other productions could have a positive effect.
He will play the Dane
Finally, and perhaps crucially, we have an actor who is well suited to the role – in his twenties, RADA trained, great to work with and keen to join us again after his Rooftop debut in The Tempest. And he’s good at learning lines. What more do you need?
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