Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ten Best Hamlets

Susannah Clapp at The Observer offers a conversation piece on The Ten Best Hamlets, though I would really like to know on what authority she commends us to the performance of Henry Irving in the 1870s.  And I suspect that she is a wee bit young to have caught even the last Hamlet of John Gielgud (in 1948, when he was 44)--though there is enough Gielgud on tape to give grounds for plausible speculation that he must have been a stunner.  I guess I'd have sign on to the Russian film version by Innokenti Smoktunovsky, albeit with the qualification that insofar as it is in Russian, I think you'd really better call it an "homage" than an actual "Hamlet" (he did tease out the larger political consequences nicely, though).

Beyond that, to make an infoirmed judgment you would have had to spend the last generation in the Britain.  So of thee, I've seen only one--Simon Russell Beale--and I must say it is about the silliest Hamlet I ever saw anywhere.  Beale was old, fat, flippant--you had the sense that someone told him was playing Falstaff.  I did see another Hamlet at Stratford about 1998 who isn't on her list and doesn't deserve to be.  Oh, and another--a student performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1976 where Hamlet really was about 19--not perfect, but a genuine freshness that brought an uncharacteristic to a part for which the actor is more often than not too old.

I persist in my somewhat unfashionable enthusiasm for the Branagh movie version.  Granted he doesn't get everything right, but that's the point Hamlet is so multifarious that no actor is ever going to get it all right.  Why, in the end, though I am glad to have seen a number of Hamlets (and want to see more), still I suspect the best performance always will remain the one in my head.

I do wish I'd seen a female Hamlet, though--apparently there have been a number, going back to Sarah Bernhardt.  Query, has there ever been a male Cleopatra (right: the boy actor in the premier, I was forgetting).

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