Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Contact Us

Hamlet on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 24-28 March 2014
This was a highly ambitious production, occupying an entire week's Afternoon Drama slot, each episode devoted to one act of the play.  To aid listeners' comprehension, the plot was summarized at the beginning of each episode, investing the drama with a serial-like quality.  Through this strategy, director Marc Beeby emphasized the play's dramatic aspects - above all else, it is a revenge tragedy with plenty of action and incident and multiple deaths.
Beeby's Hamlet could best be described as a chamber-piece, with an ingenious use of doubling in the minor roles (Robert Blythe, for instance, played both the Ghost and the Player King).  This strategy served to emphasize the relationships between characters - especially during "The Mousetrap" sequence, where Blythe was able to underscore the purpose of Hamlet's staging the play in the first place.  
As Hamlet, Jamie Parker initially came across as someone unable to cope with the trauma of his father's death.  The only way he could deal with the situation was to take refuge in madness, or play cruel verbal games with Ophelia (Lizzy Watts) and Gertrude (Anastasia Hille).  His delivery of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy sounded hesitant, as if he could not decide what to do next.  But he was no Laurence Olivier (whose famous Hamlet film of 1948 was announced at the beginning as the tragedy of a man "who could not make up his mind.")  Rather Parker came across as a disturbed young man burdened with an over-protective mother who simply has no real idea how to implement the Ghost's wishes.  Through an ingenious use of echo as he delivered his soliloquies, director Beeby suggested that this Hamlet was plagued by inner voices telling him what to do.
Once Hamlet returned from England, however, he was a changed man; the production of dealing with Rosencrantz (Carl Prekopp) and Guildenstern (Harry Myers), as well as understanding the depth of Claudius' (Paul Hilton's) treachery.  He delivered the "Alas, poor Yorick" speech in serene tones that contrasted so starkly with his style of delivery in Act I that Horatio (David Seddon) was obviously taken aback.  This new-found strength of character stood Hamlet in good stead during the final scene - when he discovered that he had been poisoned, he accepted death as an inevitable consequence.  All he needed to do was to salve his conscience by forgiving Laertes (Tom Mison) and finally taking revenge on Claudius (Paul Hilton).  At the end we felt satisfied that he had implemented the Ghost's bidding.
Beeby emphasized the rightness of Hamlet's cause by treating Claudius as an out-and-out villain.  Even at the beginning of the production,. when he tried to welcome Hamlet to his court, his voice lacked conviction.  He was far happier plotting with Laertes to rig the final duel.  He seemed to have no real love for Gertrude; he just married her for the purposes of expediency.
The other principal roles were equally strongly cast.  Polonius (James Laurenson) huffed and puffed in a manner reminiscent of Miles Malleson.  Like Claudius, he was chiefly interested in the main chance - preferment at Court.  Hence he willingly tried to dissuade Ophelia from seeing Hamlet any more.  Watts' Ophelia came across as a victim of a patriarchal society; dominated by her father and abused by Hamlet, she really did not have much of a chance to assert herself.  Hence it was not surprising that her mind should have become permanently disturbed.
This was an admirably clear and lucid production of Shakespeare's tragedy.  The verse-speaking was of a high standard throughout, while Roger Goula's music lent an ominous atmosphere to the production, almost as if the tragic events were bound to happen.