I am very much looking forwards to seeing Northern Broadsides’ production of Hamlet in April, for a number of reasons.
One being, I love the play very much, it’s probably one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but I’ll come back to this…
Another being, I’m going with a group of my friends. Which in itself is somewhat shocking. My friends and I do many, many fun and interesting things together, but going to the theatre is not usually one of them! Perhaps this is a sign of our collective growing maturity? Perhaps we are becoming more cultured and intellectual? Or perhaps it’s because our internal organs are crying out for a rest from the normal debauchery that surrounds our gatherings! In actuality, it is because we’re always up for trying something new, and it took me far too long to realise that I should take advantage of having access to such a cool resource! But then, I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake …
Also, I really like Northern Broadsides. I actually first saw them at The Round Theatre way back in early 2000. I remember the day quite clearly, I went with my friends Emma and Susan and I was wearing orange Nike trainers that I was convinced were so long and pointy they made me look like a clown (this was a terribly preoccupying thought at the time, but hey, I was only 15, such self involvement is only to be expected!) It was in the run up to the production of Much Ado About Nothing that we were putting on at school. I had managed to (God only knows how) talk my way into being involved in the production despite having no acting or directing experience. The only thing I had on my side was that I knew the play inside out and backwards. The first version of it I’d ever seen was Kenny Brannagh’s film version when I was 10. Having had no previous exposure to Shakespeare of any kind I somehow, for some reason, fell head over heels in love with everything about that play. I was off school with the chicken pox (which I initially assumed was fatal when I first found the spots on my back!) and my Mum rented it from the local chip ship (yes, chip shop, you heard me correctly) and she was then forced to rent it endlessly until she finally bought it on video (remember them? It was not that long ago!!) I do feel that it is one of his most endearing plays. And an awesome love story (not the Hero/ Claudio love story, that aspect is particularly dated from a feminist point of view to say the very least!) But Beatrice and Benedick? Both wickedly funny, both incredibly independent, both valiant and genuine and both totally compellingly believable as two people in love. Two people who really do not need each other, or anyone, just want each other hopelessly. Over the years they have become two of my favourite fictional characters of all time. The Broadsides performance was hilarious, and it was the first time that I had ever seen it acted live. I was impressed. I was not to see Broadsides again for quite some time… But I’ll come back to that too.
So from the tender age of 10 I had an interest in the Bard. Initially this was mostly centred around his comedies. I found the Tragedies a bit too, well, tragic to get my head around. Of course, this all changed the older and more morose I got, but this is only to be expected. That interest and love was particularly developed by actually going to see the plays performed, rather than reading them. Every summer we used to go to see Shakespeare under the Stars near to where I lived. An open air performance in front of castle ruins. Ridiculously atmospheric. Imagine Lady Macbeth descending a staircase on a clear night with a full moon and the back drop of an actual castle behind her… Quite the perfect image wouldn’t you say?
In any event, I was first introduced to Hamlet during my A Level studies. And I remember completely and utterly engaging with it. I do feel that it is a story that, in particular, young adults can relate to quite strongly. Hamlet’s self analysis and disillusionment with his parents, his place in the world, the idea of inheritance and the inevitability of evil within ourselves, all big concepts that I found struck a strong cord within me. Plus some of poetry in it is absolutely beautiful. I know it’s a cliché now to quote the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, but really, seriously, if you’ve not read it, read it, it is awesome.
But I suppose above everything else the main aspect that struck a chord within me was the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. I was asked to write an essay regarding whether or not Hamlet really did love Ophelia. Damned if I can find the blasted thing now, probably stored in some bent up and forgotten floppy disc in the bottom of a box, but I think I can remember the gist of it. I remember feeling quite strongly that yes, their relationship was real, was mutual, but that Hamlet was ultimately too torn up by the death of his Father and his anger towards his Mother and his Uncle, to really put Ophelia before himself. Also, that he came to see Ophelia and his feelings towards her as just another beginning of the endless cycle of love followed by inevitable betrayal. Either she would eventually betray him, because such a thing was inherent in all women, and men, or they would have children and bring more liars and evil doers into the world, because that is all that people are really. Pretty bleak, eh? For me, Ophelia’s pain summed up the pain experienced by all of us when we are rejected in love, particularly our first loves. Her inability to get her head around the concept that his love for her and consequently their shared love, could end, is very relatable. To the point where she believes that for him to reject her, he must never have loved her. That she must have been the ‘more deceived’.
‘I did love thee once’
‘Indeed my Lord, you made me believe so’
But I do not think that Hamlet intended to deceive her. This play is about Hamlet, and Hamlet’s priority is ultimately how he feels, which in the end, overtakes how he feels about Ophelia. Much like in real life and it’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. But this is just my interpretation, and I ain’t no scholar! My English teacher once accused me of interpreting literature in accordance with how I was feeling in my personal life. An example being my interpretation of the poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ by Philip Larkin. I went from the idea that the poem was saying that what will ultimately survive of us is love to what will survive us is the lie of love, passed down through the generations. My shifting perspective changing along with my relationship status at the time. Now I feel that the message is somewhere between the two. We believe in love, we exaggerate it and encourage it, and that in itself has power, that belief makes it a reality.
But in retrospect, I am not sure that this process through which I look at literature, or put more simply and accurately, how a story makes me feel from my perspective, can be considered a criticism. Of course your interpretation of a story will be dependent on your perspective at the time of reading or watching it, for the same reason that different people take different things from stories, you yourself can take different things from, or infer different meanings into a story at any given point in your life. The really good stories are the ones that you can experience repeatedly and take something new from each time.
Taking all of the above into consideration, what I’m trying to say is that I’m interested to know how I’ll feel about Hamlet seeing it at this point in my life. How will it differ from my previous opinions on it? Will it differ at all? The last time that I saw Hamlet performed was at Stratford Upon Avon in, um… late 2001 (I found it difficult to work that one out as in my memory there seemed to be far more than a year separating the Chrissy that went to see Much Ado to the Chrissy that went to see Hamlet, but I guess a lot can happen in a year!) Samuel West played the title role for the RSC. I remember the performance being very stark, minimal sets, all the characters in suits using guns instead of swords, I think the implication was that the State of Denmark, and its royalty, were a large corporation. I remember it being quite effective. Northern Broadsides have a reputation for making Shakespeare accessible to the masses. Partly this is due to good acting and direction, but also to the fact that they perform it in their local vernacular. To speak the words as you would speak them today, without pretention or over pronounced delivery, immediately makes the language far more understandable. Specifics aside, the tone and manner through which you speak the lines aids understanding. It does not matter if it’s the Broadsides’ use of the Yorkshire dialect, or the more neutral British accent used by Brannagh’s actors in Much Ado (or American accents in some cases) the point is they make something funny if it is supposed to be funny, or upsetting if it’s supposed to be upsetting, and immediately the complex outdated language that stares out at you from the page can be understood. Even by a pox ridden ten year old!
So yes, all in all, very much looking forwards to seeing Hamlet. And I’m sure I’ll let you know what I make of it!