A personal guide to all things Hamlet

David Tennant and Penny Downie in Hamlet, RSC 2008. Photograph Ellie Kurttz

By many standards, I am a Hamlet novice (or even a heretic to the cult): I only have eight stage and four screen Hamlets under my belt, and occasionally I bristle in the news of another stage production announced (there is always another production announced). Do I really want to see another Hamlet so close to the last one?

If that thought crossed my mind, then the David Tennant / Hamlet documentary on BBC2 (part of the Shakespeare Uncovered series) came along to remind me that a) yes, I most definitely want to see another Hamlet (and another one after that) and b) my love for Hamlet predates my obsession for theatre  or Shakespeare, and it will probably outlive them.

As far as I am concerned, Hamlet is black magic.  Even if we occasionally stray away, we (all of us, audience, actors, everyone) are bound to it and we return. David Tennant said as much at the end of the programme. My intention here isn’t to review the BBC2 documentary (the Hamlet Weblog has done it much better than I could, let’s briefly say that it was as simple and complex and exciting as it should be) but to list some additional (and personal) Hamlet treasures:

Favourite Hamlet story: Many people know the story of David Tennant co-starring with the human skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for his 2008 performances of Hamlet. What’s less  known is that, for his dress rehearsal and possibly early previews, he co-starred with the (human) skull used by Edmund Kean in his Hamlet performances in 1813. If there is a line linking all the Hamlets, that connection, spanning two centuries, doesn’t get stronger or more tangible than that.

Favourite audio: From the Financial Times podcast, Simon Russell Beale, David Lan (artistic director of the Young Vic) and others discuss Hamlet. From November 2011, half an hour of bliss. Runner up: Greg Doran discusses his 2008 RSC production with David Tennant.

Favourite documentary: late 8Os I saw an american documentary called “To be Hamlet” and it clearly left a big impression as I still remember it. Sadly, I don’t think I can find it again. Maybe I should try and find the 2006 episode of Imagine called “Being Hamlet”. Ralph Fiennes, Frances de la Tour, Ed Stoppard, Jonathan Pryce interviewed.

The best Hamlet I will never see: There is a list of stage performances I regret not seeing, and at the top of the list is Simon Russell Beale’s Hamlet.  The kind of performance I fantasise about.

The next Hamlet I will see: Until his death a few months back, I had no clear idea who Nicol Williamson was. After having read about him, his Hamlet – available on DVD from filming in 1969 – looks as interesting and explosive as any I will ever see.

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