January 5th, 2010

Beginning Hard Times

Hard Times reads like it was hard work- for Dickens I mean. Its opening doesn't flow.  It's laboured, contrived, more than usually intent on making a point. There's a whiff of the tract about it. The fact that Dickens is off his native heath- in a part of the world he doesn't know well-  is part of the problem. Coketown is a stage set- an agglomeration of hastily constructed theatrical flats. His characters walk through it and we see and experience very little. It's not at all like Dickens' London- which he so intensely loved and detested.

Tom Gradgrind is a hard man- with a hard, utilitarian philosophy- but he adopts a little travelling girl on a whim, going clean against everything we've been told about him- and the little travelling girl- who had a perfectly secure future among her own kind-  accepts without demur. All this counter-intuitive stuff happens simply to set up the plot and the moral.  Dickens novels often end in grindingly implausible contrivance, but I can't think of another one that begins that way.

Still, this is Dickens- and he's brilliant. The people, when they're not behaving out of character, are delicious.  Remember Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen- with their increasingly lurid tales of childhood deprivation? Well, they learned everything they ever knew from Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, sir!

The More It Snows, Tiddley-pom....

There was already snow on the ground. Then it snowed during the night. And now it's snowing some more. Ailz says this is the most snow we've had since 1974. Did nobody tell the Cloud Man that this planet is meant to be warming up?

David Tennant's Hamlet- A Second Look

We watched David Tennant's Hamlet on DVD this afternoon. This is essentially- in fact very faithfully- the same production we saw in Stratford last year. I reviewed it here . The cast is exactly the same and- so- allowing for it having expanded into a larger space- with cloisters and staircases- is the staging.

Things I omitted to talk about last time:

1. Penny Downie's Gertrude.  Poor Gertrude. Poor frail thing.  Downie's performance is strengthened considerably by close-up. The camera captures her grief, her fragility, her double-mindedness. In this production she knows what she's doing when she drinks the poison cup. It's her way out of prison.

2. Mariah Gale's Ophelia. Oh, but she's good!  A funny, frank girl whom her loved ones torture into madness. The two mad scenes are electifying. Moving (of course) but also scary. Ballads interspersed with violent craziness. She was scary on stage- and even scarier now she's close enough to touch.
3. This is a modern dress production. There are guns, there are helicopter noises off,  Elsinore is fitted out with CCTV (which makes all that hiding behind the arras a little redundant). Hamlet has a movie camera- a little, battery-powered 8mm jobbie. He films the play within a play, he films Gertrude and Claudius watching the play, he films himself soliliquising. We see some of his footage. It's a nice touch- not overdone.
4. We don't get a full text (I believe the script is based on the good quarto). Things that are missing include part of "To be or not to be", the explanation of how Hamlet got back into Denmark and the final appearance of Fortinbras. On the other hand we get some interesting stuff that most productions cut- like the embassy to Norway.

There are a lot of Hamlets out there on DVD.  I have a particular attachment to this one.  Is it the best available?  Could be.  I certainly recommend it.