To fangirl or not to fangirl

A RADA Hamlet review

(aka a Man Crush Monday blogpost about none other than Tom Hiddleston)

? Johan Persson

OK, I admit I’ve been fangirling a little since I was one of the lucky few to see him in Hamlet last Friday. So bear with me. This too shall pass. ?

Tom and I go way back to 2007, when I got £10 tickets to see Ewan McGregor in Othello at the Donmar Warehouse. Ewan was great as Iago, as was Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello, of course, but the one who stood out for me was Cassio. A young actor with an amazing talent and a beautiful voice.

At the same time, I was rehearsing for Othello in Brussels. I was playing Bianca and so I learnt my lines by listening to the BBC recording of this performance, indirectly making Tom my study buddy.

In 2008, I saw him again in Ivanov at Donmar West End. Sure, Kenneth Branagh was playing Ivanov, but I’m not a big Branagh fan. Love him as a director (especially after seeing this Hamlet), but do believe he’s been too omnipresent in his own plays. I actually went for Tom. He’d made such an impression on me the year before. Again, a great performance. And I had the pleasure of meeting him after the show.

As expected, he was a typically charming British gentleman.

So when I found out he was doing Coriolanus in 2013, I tried to get tickets, but it was sold out immediately. Of course, since then, he’d become a well-known film actor and everyone wanted to see him live. I entered a lottery for £10 front row tickets and as luck would have it, I won! Mind you, I usually never win anything, so I was overdue for some luck.

I’d never seen Coriolanus, as it’s one of the lesser known Shakespeare plays. It was so intense, so charismatic, so emotional, so raw. The “special effects”, the action, the fight scenes. Not to mention the famous shower scene. ?
I figured that was gonna be the last time I’d see him live, since he’d become so famous.

Then came the news of RADA’s Hamlet a few months ago. I entered the ballot at my friend’s request, but wasn’t holding my breath. Less than 4000 tickets available. No way I was gonna be able to be a part of that. But then, unexpectedly, I was… Literally a 1 in a million chance. It actually only really hit me when I was sitting there last Friday night.

How was it, you ask?

Well, I’lI tell you what I wanted: magic!

And boy did we get it!
I’ve seen 5 Hamlets so far, 2 live, 3 on screen. Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch and now Tom Hiddleston. Let’s not talk about Mel Gibson, for obvious reasons. Branagh, as I’ve mentioned before, is very good, very professional, but I don’t like watching him play. Jude Law also wasn’t bad at the time. But the last 2 were by far the best I’ve seen. The one with Cumberbatch was a huge spectacle, live in the cinema, while the one with Hiddleston was live, on the front row of a small theatre.

That in itself makes it a winner. You’re right there, in the action. The actors are almost on your lap (for those of you who are interested: he wears Calvin Klein). I was in a trance all night. It was captivating from start to finish. Not once did I wonder when the interval was coming. Not once did I lose focus (well, maybe once or twice, but that was due to Hamlet’s very tight jeans and shirt). OK, back to the point.

It was more comedy than tragedy, which was a totally different approach than any of the other ones I’d seen. Singing, dancing, funny puns, but still very true to Shakespeare’s text. I’ve never laughed so hard at one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, except for the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s backwards version of Hamlet. All the actors (some of them recent RADA graduates) were amazing. But of course, I’m biased and have to say Hamlet stole the show with his wit, his sadness instead of the usually played melancholy (real tears!), his fierceness, his charisma and his charm with the ladies.

? Johan Persson

Which brings me to the the female Horatia, Rosacrantz and Guildastern. What a great idea. It worked really well, and the actresses who played the parts (Ayesha Antoine, Eleanor de Rohan and Caroline Martin) were so good! As a Shakespeare-loving actress, I feel this should be done more often. Give women a chance to play these great parts!

I loved the stageing: the sound effects, the swiftness of the scene changes and the perfect light cues are an amateur actress’ dream. The way the small stage was used to its full potential, was inspiring. The funny bits mixed with the serious parts, were very touching and more than once belly shakingly hilarious. (Hamlet’s “Words words words” scene with Polonius, while reading Matt Haig’s “Reasons to stay alive”; shaking his booty with Rosacrantz and Guildastern; pretty much every scene with Polonius, who stole most of the show, to name but a few). The Yorick scene with the skull drumming gravedigger and Hamlet the “skull puppet master”. Honestly, I didn’t know a tragedy could be this funny. The fight scene with Laertes was incredibly well-directed, and yet scary and very, very close.
While Benedict was earnest and touching in his performance, but also quite moody at times, Tom was giddy, funny, sincere and genuinely sad or happy.

? Johan Persson

He has gotten better with age and remains an amazingly talented classical theatre actor. It’s a shame he doesn’t have time to do more of it. Don’t get me wrong, I like his films (most of the time), but it’s not the same, is it? As a theatre actress (albeit amateur), I appreciate that kind of talent and only wish I could reach that level. I love watching and studying actors and actresses, becoming inspired by them and taking away tips and tricks from every performance, whenever I can.

I feel so lucky to have been able to see this play.

TL; DR: even if Tom Hiddleston didn’t look the way he did, I’d still be in awe of his talent…but, like with anything in life, it does help. ?

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