David Tennant as Hamlet. Photo Royal Shakespeare Company,
British critics were full of praise this week for a
sci-fi tinged Hamlet
with a starry cast.
The Royal Shakespeare Company production features two
science-fiction icons - David Tennant, hero of the British
Broadcasting Corporation's Doctor Who, and Patrick
Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The high-profile casting has generated a huge buzz in the
Bard's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, 160 kilometres
northwest of London.
Tickets for the sold-out run are trading on the Internet for
hundreds of dollars, and so many screaming fans have thronged
the stage door after performances that the theatre was forced
to ban the signing of sci-fi memorabilia.
Guardian newspaper critic Michael Billington said the
hype was a sign of "our star-crazy culture," but praised "one
of the most richly textured, best-acted versions of the play
we have seen in years." The Times' Benedict
Nightingale called it "a revival to relish."
The decision to cast 37-year-old Tennant, one of Britain's
biggest TV stars, as Shakespeare's melancholy Dane drew some
criticism from theatre purists.
To be fair, Tennant has an extensive theatre background and
has appeared with the RSC before.
Co-star Stewart - Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship
Enterprise and Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies -
was nominated for a Tony Award this year for his Broadway
In The Daily Telegraph, critic Charles Spencer said
"this production has become universally known as the 'Doctor
Who Hamlet.'" But he argued that "casting Tennant was a far
from cynical ploy."
Critics were impressed with Tennant's ability to wring pathos
from soliloquies that can feel numbingly familiar, as in his
soft, subtle "To be or not to be" speech.
The Guardian's Billington said the actor made an
"active, athletic, immensely engaging Hamlet" and praised his
"quicksilver intelligence, mimetic vigour and wild humour;
one of the funniest I've ever seen."
A few reviewers had reservations about the amount of humor
Gregory Doran's production found in Shakespeare's tragedy of
a young prince haunted by the need to avenge his father's
death, although all praised Oliver Ford Davies' delicious
performance as the play's main comic character, the pedantic
In the Independent, Paul Taylor said Tennant "excels
when the prince becomes a prankish provocateur." But Daily
Express critic Paul Callan felt Tennant relied too much
on "quirkiness, pulling faces and various funny voices" to
convey Hamlet's descent into madness.
All were impressed by Stewart's quietly powerful performance
as Hamlet's murderous uncle-turned-stepfather, Claudius.
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail thought Stewart's
Claudius was "deliciously subtle."
The Telegraph's Spencer said he presented a "facade of
smiling, bespectacled geniality" so engaging that "it's easy
to forget that he has murdered his brother to assume power."
Reviewers were divided on whether Tennant will be regarded as
one of the great Hamlets, up there with Laurence Olivier and
The Guardian proclaimed Tennant "the best Hamlet in
years." The Daily Mail's Letts was less impressed:
"For all the stage-door excitement and box-office success,
this is not the greatest Dane."
Hamlet runs at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford until
November 15 and at the Novello Theatre in London December
3-January 10, 2009.