Yukio Ninagawa is Japanís best-known modern theatre director. Heís been coming regularly to Britain for nearly twenty years, and was even given an honorary CBE a couple of years ago. His productions are often indefinably magical, making you look at classic plays in a new light or giving you an undreamt-of experience with new work. However, Iím afraid I usually find his English-language shows disappointing.
This production of Shakespeareís greatest play (according to a recent RSC poll) is visually striking and elegant, thanks mainly to Tamotsu Haradaís inventive lighting design. On an almost completely bare stage, Harada plots shattered mazes with beams of light, or sets bare bulbs swinging unsettlingly above the actors. Ninagawaís direction also makes the story crystal clear. Perhaps too clear.
The text, slightly cut, takes barely three hours to play here (not including interval). Lines are often taken at a tremendous lick. This may be one reason for keeping the dramatic interpretation fairly straightforward and followable. Such clarity may be fine for students. But Iím afraid it does nothing for the freshness of the play. Old theatregoers have seen it all before; new ones will feel little reason to persevere.
I must also admit that Michael Maloney, as an actor, just doesnít excite me. Heís clearly skilled and intelligent, but itís as if you can always see the levers heís pulling to get the effect. Reviewers sometimes write about an actor giving a ďreadingĒ of a role. Thatís exactly what Maloney does here. He gives a first-rate essay on Hamlet, or a demonstration of Hamletness, but you never feel he inhabits the part.
The supporting cast, led by Peter Egan and Frances Tomelty (a year older than Maloney, and playing his mother!), are likewise efficient rather than sparky. The week after next, the RSCís Hamlet opens in the West End. Toby Stephens gives a passionate performance, but 50 years out of date. Here, Maloney is contemporary, but largely bloodless. Itís not a good autumn for portrayals of the Prince. Roll on the next batch.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
Return to index of reviews for the year 2004
Return to master reviews index
Return to main theatre page
Return to Shutters homepage