Performing Hamlet

Jonathan Croall
Bloomsbury / Arden Shakespeare

Performing Hamlet

This splendid publication from The Arden Shakespeare imprint should prove popular not only with directors and actors, who will learn a great deal about their trade through the medium of perhaps the most popular play that has ever been written, but also the general public.

Jonathan Croall wears his research and learning very lightly, meaning that what could have been an impenetrable academic tome is actually a great read.

The author's mission was to portray what the subtitle describes as "Actors in the Modern Age" taking on one of the toughest roles that the stage can offer, almost all succeeding to a significant degree.

Starting with Michael Redgrave in the 1950s and running right up to Andrew Scott last year, our guide provides condensed but relatively detailed analyses of over 40 different productions.

As a bonus, Croall also includes a reprint of his much longer Hamlet Observed, which goes far further in getting under the skin of John Caird's millennium-opening production starring the incomparable Simon Russell Beale.

The general methodology is quite simple. Jonathan Croall attempts to describe each production in as much detail as possible, outlining the look, the ethos and the period.

He also describes the performances, going far beyond merely the actor playing the central character. They are a wide and varied group from whom this reviewer would pick Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw and Mark Rylance as particular favourites of those that he has seen.

In most cases, the author is also able to rely on interviews with leading figures, which are occasionally drawn from published sources but much more often appear to be those that he has conducted himself. This gives the book a unique feel and adds great value.

At each selection's centre is a highly informative depiction of the way in which Hamlet was played, frequently benefiting from interviews with both the director and the leading actor. Often, there are also commentaries from other actors that help to complete the picture.

This volume would be a perfect gift for any budding director who has ambitions to take on Hamlet, as it would for an actor desperate to play the role whether in an amateur production, the West End or anywhere in between.

However, over and above this obvious target market, any general reader who has seen or plans to see a production would not only benefit from reading Performing Hamlet but is also certain to enjoy the experience and the opportunity to read about such stage and screen stars as Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Ian McKellen, Daniel Day Lewis, David Tennant and Jude Law.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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