Peter Brook Company, The Tragedy of Hamlet

Review in Issue 13-2 | Summer 2001

‘Qui est là?' Peter Brook's The Tragedy of Hamlet premiered in the evocative 19th century Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, in which even the bare plaster walls seem to resonate with theatricality. This economical production aims to tell its tale with a simple clarity and to this end Brook has cut all the scenes that do not include either Hamlet the King or Hamlet the Prince.

Adrian Lester is a young and agile Hamlet who expresses his emotions physically with a passion that appears to transform his physical shape. In grief, floods of tears run down his cheeks from sunken eyes. When Rosencrantz announces the arrival of the players his joy propels him to cartwheel across the stage. In madness, he becomes a shape-shifter taking on beastly form, straining muscles and sinews and frothing at the mouth. In contrast the verbal style is restrained, avoiding all excess of emotion, characterisation or projection. Except for the Gravedigger, which Bruce Myers plays with the wit and verve of an Irish navvy. Vaulting in and out of the grave, he projects his earthy wit loud and clear, while Hamlet joins in the crack.

This scene stands out from all that has gone before and serves to dispel the hush of anticipation that has gripped the audience, rhythmically providing a welcome distraction before the highly charged final scenes of violence. It is in this scene that we see what was lacking from the rest of the performance. It is here, in the clown scene, that the actors employ their skills to entertain. Peter Brook's production only does half the job, because as a storyteller he succeeds in creating the atmosphere of intensity and anticipation, but fails to satisfy. Questions are asked but left unanswered. The production finishes with Horatio delivering the first line from Act 1, Scene 1: ‘Who's there?'

Presenting Artists
Date Seen
  1. Jan 2001

This article in the magazine

Issue 13-2
p. 28