Sunday, September 23, 2007

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

Hamlet at the Pearl Theatre was very good (barring the unwanted aspect of concentration needed to suppress annoying manifestations of ongoing lung ailment). Modest, small-scale, suited to the size of the organization. Some of the acting a bit uneven, but the crucial folks very good (the actor playing Hamlet is like a sort of mini-Christopher Walken, only lighter on his feet, very good stuff!).

The first few scenes caused me to reflect, not with pleasure, on the effects of British acting styles on American Shakespearean actors. There was a sense of slightly affected diction, something too staccato or choppy, in some of the actors' delivery; and Hamlet was occasionally prone to overly rhetorical delivery. Those RSC-type actors can just about get away with that very precise diction, partly because RSC style so heavily emphasizes keeping the through line of the speech. I think the best American Shakespearean actors are well-advised to adopt a slightly more colloquial style--of course everything still needs to be carefully enunciated, but there's an unfortunate tendency (which probably just comes from years of exposure to the British version) as things get more deliveryish to let the vowels become a bit English so that the language slides into a rather non-naturalistic style of speech that I find very distracting. (Obviously delivery onstage is always in some sense non-naturalistic; I'm referring to a more substantive departure from the spoken accent.) However it mostly came right before too long...

I am so steeped in eighteenth-century Shakespeares that I am sorry to say I also kept on finding myself thinking of Garrick as Hamlet, and having wishful thoughts about how--barring some early performances of Beckett, I suppose--there is no past performance of a play I would be more enthralled to see than Garrick's Hamlet!On the other hand, I've read so many descriptions and seen so many pictures that perhaps it is almost as though I have seen it, I was certainly thinking of it often...

(Image courtesy of this interesting article by Alan R. Young.)