“The Play’s The Thing…”

In honour of the premier tomorrow (or today, for my British lovelies!) of Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Hamlet, I’ve decided to actually do what I’ve been putting off for a while now: rank the past Hamlet performances I’ve seen in order of preference.

To be clear, I’ve yet to see a production of this play that I don’t like. Each time I see a new actor or director’s take, I’m amazed by its ability to reach through the centuries and speak to human hearts. It’s my belief that this story and its characters will go on touching lives as long as there are people out there willing to share it in some form or another.

That being said, here, in some sort of general (dis)order, are my favourite Hamlets:

5) Hamlet, 2017, starring Andrew Scott, directed by Robert Icke.

I had the privilege of seeing this performance live in London, and the experience was amazing. I loved Scott’s awareness of his own body on stage, which really drove home the play’s theme of self and identity. Additionally, the production did a lot to draw the audience into the experience, such as having us view the same security screens as Hamlet and Horatio, and having the royal family join the front row to watch the play-within-the-play.

However, my biggest drawback was that I just couldn’t find myself engaging with the actors as much as in other performances. They seemed to be lacking a certain something, that thing that leaps out and grabs you and keeps you enthralled all the way to the end. Part of this, I think, was due to some very long pauses that were added into the beats of the dialogue…many of them were so long, it became awkward, and we wondered if they needed a line!

4) Hamlet, 2009, starring David Tennant, directed by Gregory Doran

I have to admit to YouTube-ing a few scenes from this one before coming up with this list because, although I own it on DVD, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it all the way through. So, to be fair, Mr. Tennant, you may deserve to be higher on my list. However, going off of my poor memory, nothing spectacular stands out about this production, other than the characteristically riveting performances of Tennant and Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius and the Ghost. Whereas Scott’s soliloquies are quiet and introspective, Tennant is full of energy and makes use of the camera by addressing it directly and often. The using of lighting and polished floors and walls create a mirror effect, adding the psychological element of reflection always present behind the prince’s words and actions.

3 & 2) Hamlet, 1948, starring Laurence Olivier, directed by Laurence Olivier

Hamlet, 2015, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, directed by Lyndsey Turner

Yes, a tie! And I chose these two for opposite reasons. Olivier’s I love for its tradition, Cumberbatch’s for its freshness. Olivier’s Hamlet is a slightly condensed version, so if you watch it and you’re on the look out for your favourite characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, you may be disappointed. However, I, who initially thought I would be disappointed as well, was pleasantly surprised to find that the remaining characters were so well developed that I barely missed anything at all. I was also in love with the set and costumes! Today’s productions are so obsessed with “updating” the plays (not that that’s a bad thing) that we rarely get to see Shakespeare’s work in any kind of historical setting. Olivier’s stone castle by the sea and luxurious court costumes were fantastic!

Cumberbatch’s production is equally fantastic in its scope, made even more amazing by the fact that you are watching it unfold on a stage in front of you. His Hamlet is energetic, like Tennant’s, and though the production has been excused of going over the top, his emotion is always on track, playing perfectly to the moment he’s in.

1) Hamlet, 2017, starring Tom Hiddleston, directed by Kenneth Branagh

Okay, does this count as cheating since I haven’t and technically won’t be able to see it? But I know it’s going to be the best of them all! How? Track records. Hiddleston and Branagh are dynamite on their own; bring them together on a project, and you have gold. Oh, and bring them together on Shakespeare….might as well give them all the awards now.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my list? Disagree? Are there ones I’m missing? (I’m sure there are!) Which ones have you seen/not seen? Any you’re looking forward to? Let me know.




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