Hamlet or Yorick - the writer's choice


I saw the RSC's production of Hamlet yesterday. It was in modern dress and modern times. The set consisted of two beechwood chairs.

Samuel West was likable and engaging in the title role, but the production had more energy than intelligence. It was like a rehearsal, eager actors running around in their own clothes. I suppose some link was made to the shallowness of the corporate world, comparing that to Elsinore and the Danish court, but this was very slight. The only real logic to the barebones of the set seemed to be one of economy. I missed seeing Gertrude's bedroom, Ophelia's long hair, the richness of curtains, the colour of court clothes.

I'm all for stripping back in writing terms (I've just read of John McGahern stripping his novels back from 1200 pages to 200, and admire him for it, especially since his books are so redolent of life). And surely in writing terms Hamlet could have been stripped of ninety minutes by some helpful editing. But you can strip things so far they're skeletal. Hamlet questions the very nature of human existence, but he isn't Yorick. Samuel West made him especially vivacious. We could have done with seeing the trappngs of court, the wonders of the nature that Shakespeare describes as surrounding Ophelia in her death, the difference of being a prince instead of in exile.

In rewriting I often find I flesh out scenes that I have previously whittled down. We're alive after all. Fine, strip things of excess, but take time to marvel at the lushness of all that is left.

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