Past Productions: On the RSC stage - 1992
Dr Nick Walton from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust talks about the history of Hamlet in performance on the RSC stage. Scroll down for an extended transcript.
This is a production from 1992 directed by Adrian Noble and it's Kenneth Branagh taking the role of Hamlet.
This was the fourth time that Kenneth Branagh had played Hamlet, and he would go on to play the role again for his film version in 1997. For Nobleís production Branagh was a Prince who was friendly, but remained remote in his dealings with other people. He was brooding and self possessed, and he presented an old fashioned courtesy.
Adrian Noble decided to set the play in a disintegrating Edwardian world which gave it a thick layer of melancholy. Many people felt this production had the feel of a play by Chekhov or Ibsen because of its emphasis upon the breakup of a family. Pictured above is Hamlet talking with Claudius and Gertrude during the opening scene. There's a stark contrast in the white costumes of the king and queen compared to Hamlet dressed in sombre black. Hamlet remained aloof, though there was a sense of celebration with Claudius and Gertrude sipping champagne, the new king puffing upon a cigar. Jane Lapotaire, playing Gertrude, was very keen to find out what was haunting her son. She would move around the stage in order to get a better view of him and at times audiences saw her trying to bring Hamlet and Claudius together.
The Ghost bookmarked the production, appearing in the very first moments and at the close. At the opening of the play the ghost appeared from the stage trapdoor. The opening line
Who's there? was spoken as the guards looked into the distance. At the end of the production Hamlet was put onto a bier and carried to the back of the stage, where the Ghost was standing once more, waiting with open arms to welcome his son.
In this production Polonius was spying on everybody in the Court. He seemed to be holding information on everybody, emphasised by a large filing cabinet in his study. The straightjacket that Hamlet is wearing signifies his antic disposition. It's also something which Branagh was able to use to great comic effect.
In this production instead of meeting in the lobby Hamlet actually seemed to search Ophelia out by visiting her bedroom. Her bedroom was presented on stage as a little girlís room. It had a tall wardrobe in which Claudius and Polonius hid to spy upon Ophelia and Hamlet as they spoke. After Polonius' death Ophelia came onto stage wearing her fatherís blood stained suit. She was also wearing his shoes which were obviously oversize: a strong image of her loss of wits, and her childlike attachment to her father.
Here's a picture from The Murder of Gonzago showing the moment where this Hamlet actually grabbed the poison from the first player, as though he was about to kill Claudius. On seeing this, Claudius stood up, exited, and brought the performance to a sudden crashing end.
Here is Hamlet with the Ghost of his father in Gertrude's closet. Gertrudeís face is full of obvious distress and fear for her disturbed son. The ghost is dressed in a cardigan and trousers, with little attempt made to suggest a supernatural figure .
This is a moment from the prompt book for Adrian Noble's production – it shows us just how the scene with the gravedigger was presented on stage. If you look closely, you'll see that some of the stage-business included the gravediggers taking out their packed lunches, sprinkling salt and pepper on their food, and chatting to Hamlet while continuing to eat their lunch.
© RSC 2009 Commentary by Nick Walton from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 1992 photography by Reg Wilson
Sophistication over time
1901-1940 Beyond Shakespeare's words
1948 Gothic Hamlet
1958 60-year old Hamlet
1965 Sixties' Hamlet
1970 Singing Ophelia
1975 Claustrophobic Hamlet
1980 Visible ghost
1984 Boisterous Claudius
1989 Rebel without a cause
1992 Edwardian Hamlet
1997 Ophelia on pills
2001 CCTV Hamlet
2004 Bent double ghost
2008 Modern iconic Hamlet