Wokingham Theatre is an Amateur company putting on 8 varied shows a year. This blog is about the rehearsals for their production of Hamlet.
With four weeks left till first night, the cast have broadly understood the text, established their characters and learnt most of their lines. Now we have some time to dig deeper. Our production has focused around Hamlet’s question “Am I a coward?”. Earlier this month we looked cowardice in Hamlet’s relationship with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. In 2.2 we discovered that Hamlet writes his relationship off with R&G very early, not because they have been sent for – he seems to forgive them for that as soon as it is admitted – rather for what happens next: the short exchange over “What a piece of work is man…”. We tried playing it as a rather pretentious student conversation, then as an accusation against R&G for not being more honourable and open about why they had come, until finally we hit on playing it as Hamlet seeking solace. When Rosencrantz fails to empathise, offering only the rather shallow diversion of the Players, our Hamlet walks away, unable to tell them what is on his mind.
In rehearsal we jumped from that scene to the beginning of 5.1. Hamlet recounts how he has sent R&G to their death. We have decided that this decision, which of course happens off stage, is perhaps the first attempt Hamlet makes to take control. We explored how his words and attitude are different in Act 5. So at the start of 5.2 our Hamlet deliberately chooses to sit on the King’s throne, and his cold, factual account of sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths doesn’t seem that of a coward at all.
Last night we looked at how prepared Hamlet was to die. Our Hamlet is definitely thinking of suicide at the start of ‘To be or not to be’, but is he a coward now? We need to work out how to play the last moments before the duel “if it be now tis not to come…” Shall we see a Prince facing the possibility of death with equanimity not cowardice; or maybe just a young man completely terrified of death but going to fight anyway; or perhaps a revengeful son who does not believe he will die, determined to bring justice to an Uncle; or… We have not found an answer that works yet – fortunately we have a still have enough rehearsal time to find one.
Hedda Bird – director for Hamlet, and also Artistic Director of Wokingham Theatre.
Hamlet runs October 18th – 27th 2012 www.wokinghamtheatre.org.uk