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The Ghost of Hamlet

The Stage and Television Today, 27th July 2000, John Thaxter

A Dream and Tempest already to her credit, director Sue Parrish has now tackled Hamlet for the City of London Festival.

Seven leading actors gave a reading of a much-abbreviated text, cutting out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Gravedigger and much else to make way for a selection of Russian incidental music from Sir Neville Mariner and his Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

With theatrical and orchestral lovers packing the Great Hall, the evening was almost a triumph. But music too often held up dramatic action and vice versa, while Chris Davey’s restlessly vulgar lighting did nothing for the sense of occasion.

The actors were on scaffold rostra above the orchestra, with Nigel Terry as the Ghost occupying a separate balcony. But despite amplification the words were sometimes lost in the echo. Those you gave a fully dramatic performance fared best, notably Michael Pennington as a warm and sympathetic Claudius, even in his tormented moments of confession.

Clear-spoken and unforced, Jamie Glover as amlet took a while to get full measure of his role, but was particularly effective in the angry bedchamber exchanges with Kathryn Pogson’s Gertrude.

Rising National Theatre star Gabrielle Jourdan gave a powerful reading of ‘O what a noble mind…’ so it seemed a pity that the rest of her role was given over to an Ophelia song cycle for the otherwise admirable mezzo Sally Bruce-Payne.

I also doubt the value of including five Shoshakovich songs for King Lear’s Fool to ‘encapsulate Hamlet’s fencing with Polonius’. None could fault Alexander Vinogradov’s fine bass voice, but this was a serious artistic lapse.

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