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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Watching Maxine Peake as 'Hamlet'

I'm currently watching Maxine Peake playing 'Hamlet,' the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Company production which has been shown on Sky Arts. This company used to tour their unique theatre-in-the-round theatre 'module' and came to Bedford several times over the years, but seem to have stopped doing so, no doubt due to funding cuts. I saw several of their productions, notably their production of 'A Comedy of Errors', 'Don Juan', 'A View From The Bridge,' 'The Importance of Being Earnest' and the absolutely hilarious Marx Brothers show 'Animal Crackers.  Ben Keaton was Groucho, with Joseph Alessi as Chico and Toby Sedgwick as Harpo. An extremely physical show and if you'd sat on the front row of the audience (I didn't.) then you were in for a surprise as they kept using the audience during the action. A total joy and I wish it would return sometime as I'd really love to take Carol to see it. So memorable. The company set up their theatre in the carpark of what used to be Pilgrim's School in Brickhill Drive in Bedford, but in the past they had used the Alexandra Sports Hall, which used to be part of Bedford Physical Education College, now swallowed up and part of the University of Bedfordshire.

As for Maxine Peake as Hamlet. What can I say? Truly mesermising. I have seen around half-a-dozen productions of Shakespeare's masterpiece, as well as working as an A.S.M. on a production at Liverpool Playhouse in the early 1970's which had John Castle as Hamlet and Joanna David as Ophelia in it. I've never seen the role played by a woman before, but she made it her own. I have my reservations about having the part of Polonius played by a woman, and becoming Polonia. I'm not sure there was much point in the gender-swap.

I have to say I'm a bit surprised by the lighting, or the lack of it. What might have worked well in the theatre certainly doesn't work for a television version. I'd have thought that they might at least have re-lit for the television version. In some scenes you could barely see what was going on. I didn't like the grave-digger scene with all the clothes which suddenly seemed to drop on the stage. And when the funeral began and Laertes was supposed to 'bury' her, the use of just her clothes didn't do it for me somehow. The biggest let-down as the final scene, the 'fencing match' scene. It really had no drama in it at all and when Hamlet eventually dies, the bit where Maxine Peake falls on the floor, just didn't work at all. Pity as the rest of the production was really good.

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