Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
A PAIR OF HAMLETS
The year’s two productions of Hamlet came with such hype that they provoked the postponement of a third, Sam Mendes’s planned production with Simon Russell Beale. Both were sharply defined by their choice of theatre. To mark the renaming of the Globe in Shaftesbury Avenue as the Gielgud Theatre in honour of Gielgud’s ninetieth birthday, Peter Hall directed Hamlet with his own company, starring Stephen Dillane, Horatio to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet in Zeffirelli’s film. It was the obvious choice of opening production, both a tribute to the greatest Hamlet of his generation and a way of defining a distance from the romantic, poetic Prince Gielgud made so emphatically his own between the wars. Jonathan Kent’s production for the Almeida company starring Ralph Fiennes, which must have been originally planned for the small scale of the Almeida, needed, in the aftermath of Fiennes’s huge success in Schindler’s List, to find a larger space before moving to New York where Fiennes’s performance won a Tony award. This Hamlet moved east, using the Hackney Empire, a decaying, once splendid and undeniably enormous theatre designed by Frank Matcham, now more commonly the home of Music Hall, the only theatre I have been in for some time that positively encourages the audience to take their drinks into the auditorium after the interval.