when i read last year that david tennant (star of doctor who) was going to play hamlet this summer/fall at the RSC's theater in stratford-upon-avon, i thought, "hmmm, that would be a cool thing to see." but when i read that patrick stewart (captain picard of star trek: the next generation) was also going to be in the play (as claudius/the ghost) ... i knew i had to be there. my TWO fave sci-fi tv heroes (pictured above -- DT at left -- in a rehearsal photo from the RSC) in one shakespeare production?! chance of a lifetime! so, a whole eight months ago, i bought a ticket to that play and to love's labour's lost, also featuring tennant (though, alas, not stewart), as berowne. i figured i might as well get the whole package if i'm traveling that far.
david tennant as the doctor is the most popular ever to play the role -- even leaving longtime champ tom baker in the dust (although, WTF, tom baker will always be MY doctor ...). so naturally, his casting created a sensation -- pretty much anything DT does creates a sensation, as he is a huge star in the UK. it's been a total media frenzy over there for months. (nobody but fellow doctor who fans knows who tennant is on this side of the pond, howev.) tickets are sold out (and allegedly going for up to 500 pounds on ebay). and there was the inevitable backlash, with veteran stage director sir jonathan miller criticizing the stunt casting of celebs in shakespeare (jude law is gonna play hamlet in the west end not long after tennant's done). he pouted that director gregory doran had hired "that man from doctor who" to star in his modern-dress production strictly b/c of star power. there may be some truth to this, but tennant, like stewart of course, has already done some willie the shake for the RSC before (including romeo and juliet). and now they are doin' it together (RSC production photo):
anyway, previews started last week, and the official opening was tuesday. in short, the reviews are in.
the general consensus is, "that man from doctor who" is very good, with caveats. stewart is universally getting high praise for his perf. and director doran is being universally dinged for some of the cuts he's made to the text (charles spencer in the telegraph called the play "sometimes brutally cut"). including, apparently, not revealing the fate of rosencrantz and guildenstern, who are killed by hamlet (c'mon, there can't be spoilers! this is shakespeare!).
benedict nightingale in the times gave the production four out of five stars and said tennant kept him "riveted throughout" -- although he'd seen "bolder hamlets and more moving hamlets." but nightingale was more forgiving of tennant not reaching a certain depth than other critics.
like charles spencer in the telegraph, who had many good things to say -- and also found stewart to be exemplary -- but added that "Tennant isn't in the pantheon of the great Hamlets yet."
"What's lacking, at present, is weight and depth. He delivers the great soliloquies with clarity, but he doesn't always discover their freight of emotion."
spencer gives examples of problems with "to be or not to be" and the "nunnery" speech. but he adds that tennant is best when he does tap into his emotions and has some advice:
"As the run continues, Tennant should trust his feelings, dig deeper, expose more of himself."
giving us a little bit of a feel for what it was like to be in the theater, paul taylor in the independent described the crowd and added that having tennant play hamlet was good for everyone:
"It's a joy to see Stratford's vast Courtyard Theatre packed to the rafters and liberally sprinkled with children who remain rapt throughout."
taylor finds tennant adept at most aspects of the role but notes he "excels when the prince becomes a prankish provocateur." he certainly gives the actor high marks but, similar to spencer, also says he wouldn't "put him in the absolute front rank of contemporary Hamlets" (to taylor, these would include simon russell beale, mark rylance, and stephen dillane). his reservations are in line with spencer's as well:
"In the soliloquies, the finest performers seem to be, partly, laying bare their own souls to us, too and laying us bare to ourselves. At the moment, that strange double-feeling of exposure and spiritual connection is not as strong here as one could wish here."
but he also thinks tennant is capable of getting better at this aspect of the performance.
another four out of five stars from michael billington in the guardian. he seemed especially taken with tennant, calling him "immensely engaging." and yet still ...
"If there is any quality I miss, it is the character's philosophical nature, and here he is not helped by the production."
the major party pooper was quentin letts of the daily mail, who called tennant (with much reluctance, one sensed) "memorable" but "not the greatest Dane" (groan ... oh, yes, he diiiiid). this critic was generally quite snarky about tennant's perf (while also complaining about doran's cuts, and praising stewart). but, frankly, this dude sounded like nothing but an asshole when he said:
"On Monday night I saw about 30 members of the audience leap to their feet at the end to show delight at Mr Tennant's performance. All but two of them were women.
Maybe it's because he's such a TV pin-up or maybe his interpretation of Hamlet (light on power politics, heavier on personal hiatus) is likely to appeal more to the female mind.
so you'll excuse me if -- after a totes sexist and flippin' stupid statement like that -- i don't take his sour words all that seriously.
finally, this mostly descriptive and praiseworthy take from caroline briggs of BBC news also nodded to the notion that tennant has room to improve. (at this link is a clip showing tennant coming to the stage door afterward, signing programs, and there is indeed a mob of people waiting.)
i suppose this is good news for tennant (and i know i'm relieved ... how much would it suck to make plans to travel so far, only to see something crappy?). dunno if he'll read the reviews, or heed the advice. one thing we know for sure, howev, is he still looks good in a tux:
anyway. it certainly seems possible that this notion the critics have of tennant needing to dig deeper could be viewed as a challenge -- something he genuinely seems to relish as an actor. i figure by the time i get there to see it, he'll have it all worked out.