Page last updated at 01:19 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 02:19 UK

Review: David Tennant in Hamlet

By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

David Tennant in Hamlet. Copyright: Ellie Kurtzz/RSC
David Tennant is the undoubted star of the RSC production of Hamlet

David Tennant, known to millions as BBC TV's Doctor Who, has returned to his thespian roots as the lead in Hamlet.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production, staged in Stratford-upon-Avon, takes a modern-day approach to the great Shakespearean tragedy.

It also stars Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart as Claudius, Peter de Jersey as Horatio, Mariah Gale as Ophelia and Pennie Downie as Gertrude.

The production is helmed by RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran.

From the second David Tennant made his entrance as Hamlet in the RSC's latest production, it was clear just who was the star of the show.

Unannounced, almost anonymously, he walked silently to the corner of the stage, and stood forlornly, his hand clasped around a champagne-glass.


But all eyes at the Courtyard Theatre immediately sought out the lanky Scotsman who has endeared himself to millions as the 10th Doctor Who on the cult TV series.

And he was not there to disappoint. He seized the role of the young man haunted by his father's ghost with both hands and ran with it. Literally.

At first he is reserved. His hair is swept back and as stiff as his demeanour as his uncle Claudius marries his mother, Gertrude. Standing under the crystal chandeliers he is seemingly oblivious to the celebrations around him.

But when he crouches to the floor, alone, and gripped by unbearable despair, his grief and rage overwhelm.

Boyish energy

And it's not long before Tennant's more familiar, frenetic acting comes to the fore.

In an early scene where he encounters his father's ghost, some of his expressions - the bulging-eyed fear, the bared teeth and furrowed brow - are reminiscent of the Doctor.

He races about the stage with ease - all lanky limbs and boyish energy - switching seamlessly between sanity, feigned madness and humour.

In many of the scenes Tennant is barefoot, which adds to the intimacy of the play. The costumes too are pared-down and modern.

It is, perhaps, the first time Hamlet has worn a Parka jacket and beanie hat. Tennant carries it off with quirky aplomb.


David Tennant greets fans after performing as Hamlet

Tennant also uses his hair to great theatrical effect. From the sleek combed-back style of his first scene, he ruffles it to display despair, rage and madness. It deserves a credit of its very own.

Overall, his performance is undoubtedly mesmerising. What he lacks in emotional intensity, he makes up for with wit, humour and stirring energy.

Tennant is at his best, though, when he allows his full dramatic force to take over. The scene in Gertrude's bedroom when he challenges her on her "incestuous" bed is menacingly powerful.

And he delivers the play's most famous lines without fanfare. They are there, subtle and seamless.

Stewart, too, deserves credit for his understated scary portrayal of Claudius. He is the chilling calm to Tennant's vivacity.

Peter de Jersey's Horatio is wonderfully endearing, Oliver Ford Davies is hilarious as doddery old Polonius, while Mariah Gale's Ophelia has a haunting vulnerability.

But all eyes will undoubtedly remain on Tennant as he continues his run as the Prince of Denmark. It has, perhaps inevitably, become known as the Doctor Who Hamlet.

And while Tennant may not be the best Hamlet the RSC has ever produced, he could soon be a serious challenger for the crown.

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