Past Productions: On the RSC stage - 1997
Dr Nick Walton from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust talks about the history of Hamlet in performance on the RSC stage.
This is a production from 1997 directed by Matthew Warchus. The director made a very bold opening to his production by cutting the Opening Scene, because he felt that audiences had become too familiar with the play. This production didn't begin on the battlements; instead, it started with a film. Projected onto the back of the stage was a home movie of a young boy playing in the snow with his father and a dog. Hamlet, played by Alex Jennings, came walking to the front of the stage holding his father's ashes. He then emptied these onto the stage. This opening tableau set the scene for the rest of the production. It was a personal tragedy about Hamlet, about his grief and about the way he coped with it.
Here you've got the prompt book for that opening moment. You can see that in Claudius's speech some of the lines have been cut. You'll see at the bottom of the page there is a description of how the production launched straight into the party atmosphere for the King and Queen's marriage.
This picture shows the inside of Claudius's office. Getrude is dressed in red, the scarlet woman - a lascivious adulterer in Hamlet’s eyes. With the line
frailty thy name is woman Hamlet targets his aggression towards his mother.
Here you have a picture of Ophelia during the party scene. This gave audiences a chance to see Ophelia in all her radiance: gossiping, chatting, and dancing. This contrasted with the broken, neurotic Ophelia we would see later in the play.
The prompt book reveals that Hamlet remained on stage whilst Polonius spoke to Ophelia about the prince’s recent behaviour. Hamlet wandered around the party carrying a Polaroid camera. He looked alienated, disconnected. It was very difficult for people to retain their privacy in this court.
Here's an image of Ophelia after her father's death. Instead of giving herbs and flowers to the King and Queen, she spilled pills around the stage. She had been seen taking pills through the course of the play – an evident sign of her distress.
Whenever Hamlet wanted to be alone he escaped up into the loft. Confidential conversations took place in this location; conversations with his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with the players to discuss the performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, and with himself for his
To be or not to be soliloquy.
When the ghost appeared in Gertrude’s closet he wore a dressing gown and slippers. It was only makeup that suggested his ghostly appearance. Hamlet looked long and hard at the ghost reaching out his arms for him. Gertrude didn't see the ghost in this production and could only look in bewilderment at Hamlet's gestures.
This production cut Fortinbras and ended with a gunshot. The closing moment saw a return to the projected film of Hamlet falling into the arms of his father.
© RSC 2009 Commentary by Nick Walton from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Opening Scene photograph © Ivan Kyncl. All other images by permission of SBT, photography by Malcolm Davies
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
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