Thursday, February 18, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - BBC '80

The BBC presentation sets Scene 3 on the docks, created simply but effectively with the white studio walls, a false horizon, a few sailor extras and seagull sound effects. Laertes' departure is more immediate, and consequently, emotions perhaps flare more hotly. This is our first introduction to Ophelia, played by Lalla Ward, which I find immensely distracting personally because of her connection to Doctor Who (in which she played the Time Lady Romana opposite Tom Baker's Doctor). At 29, Lalla is a bit old to play the part, something she shares with other leading ladies in the BBC's Shakespeare series (Penelope Wilton in Othello, for example). What you gain in acting experience, you lose in the character's necessary naivety. Necessary? That's the question here. Lalla's Ophelia seems wiser than others' - she doesn't try to play the "green girl" - so at this point at least, it is a legitimate performance choice. She is thoughtful to the point of making us wonder if she and Hamlet HAVE consummated their relationship. Her fleeting smiles seem designed to pacify her brother and father, deflect attention from her guilt. She looks away, or at her feet, often. She has something to hide.

Eric Porter's Polonius is younger and more robust than the usual actors cast in the role, which makes him seem less of a dotard. There's a kindness there, and between all three family members, that feels genuine even through remonstrances. As he gives Laertes advice, Ophelia is seen in the background. She is beaming at first, smiling at her father's ways, but soon turns dour at the mention of a quarrel. Does this remind her suddenly that she and her brother just had a disagreement? Not that she disagreed outwardly much, but inwardly, there's another story crossing her face.

As Laertes says his final goodbyes (accompanied by one of those awkward kisses on the lips), Polonius is listening. This is what sparks the next part of the scene and paints Polonius as an eavesdropper.
This is a trait that blooms later. Nice of the staging to include here, where so often, it just seems like Laertes is being careless, or else doesn't think it's a private matter. Polonius' kindness carries through to his talk with Ophelia. He knows he's hurting his daughter by preventing her from seeing Hamlet, but sincerely believes it's for her own good. Though he's a touch patronizing, he consoles rather than chides.
"I'm really sorry about this" is written on his face throughout. This wiser Ophelia still obeys, but there is a sense that Polonius must plead with her to do so. She obeys out of love and respect for him, not out of fear. This gives her more power than she is usually afforded in the play, and we'll see how that impacts the rest of her scenes. In keeping with this idea, Polonius does show surprise that she speaks "like a green girl", evidently expecting more rational thought from her. It remains to be seen of Lalla Ward is miscast or an attempt to put Ophelia closer to Hamlet's maturity level.

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