Theatres and producers are constantly looking at new ways of getting people through the doors for the first time as well as attracting younger audience members. In 2008, the Royal Shakespeare Company spectacularly achieved this: by offering David Tennant the part of Hamlet.
The Scottish actor had just finished his third—and last—series as the 10th Doctor Who, being voted the best doctor of all by readers of Doctor Who Magazine.
Tickets for his portrayal of the Prince of Denmark were so highly prized that some people took out membership of the RSC so that they could get tickets before they went on general sale.
The RSC, never an organisation to shy away from controversial decisions, decreed that theatregoers should not take Doctor Who memorabilia for Tennant to sign at the stage door.
Many of the theatre newcomers who bagged tickets—some of them paying over the odds on Internet auction sites—did not know that Tennant was no Shakespearean rookie. He was returning to the company after an absence of eight years.
Gregory Doran’s modern-dress production of Hamlet was probably the most exciting, exhilarating and well-acted version I had seen at that time. I described Tennant’s performance as “mesmerising”.
It was not a one-man show, though. Patrick Stewart, known to sci-fi fans as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek rather than an actor who started his career at the RSC, gave a marvellous portrayal of Claudius. It won him his second Olivier Award.
The cast was crammed with talent. There was Mariah Gale whose interpretation of Ophelia was disturbing, Penny Downie who produced a measured performance as Gertrude and Oliver Ford Davies who gave us a fuddy-duddy, forgetful Polonius.
The production definitely lived up to the hype that preceded it. And on the night I attended, there was a bonus: a question-and-answer session with the cast.
No one expected Tennant to be there; maybe he was talking to the fans who were waiting for him at the stage door. But shortly after the start, Patrick Stewart stepped onto the stage, much to everyone’s astonishment.
He held nothing back, answering questions honestly and comprehensively as he gave a clear insight into the production and his career.
It was not only a memorable night for me. It was a special night for countless others, many of whom were watching their first Hamlet.