Sunday, December 9, 2012
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Tennant (2009)
Tennant's acting strategy is to discover the text as he says it, which creates an impressive freshness to words more than 400 years old. For example, he plays with "your husband's brother's wife" as if comically working out its complexities. Later he'll find epithets like "fanged" only after a pause, considering the word "adders" less than sufficient to describe the treacherous Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. And so it is with the violence and intensity of the scene. He throws Gertrude on the bed, pulls her face towards newspapers with photos of the two kings, jumps on the bed, and makes it all seem unchoreographed and dangerous. He also discovers Gertrude's text. When she asks if he would murder her, it makes him take pause, disturbs him, shocked that he might have done it in a fit of rage. She starts to crawl towards her nightstand, in fear for her life, and in the drawer is a gun, but she doesn't draw it. That's when she starts to shout for help, making it very clear that she's asking for Polonius specifically, her eyes darting to the closet. Typically, he's slow on the uptake. Hamlet grabs the gun and shoots him, shattering the mirror (a device also used on a large mirrored wall in the stage play). Polonius stumbles out and collapses behind more mirrors, and it's only when Hamlet illuminates his form with a match that he realizes it wasn't the King. As the match burns out, Polonius' life on stage is extinguished forever.
Because she can't see this apparition, her fears that Hamlet is truly mad are confirmed, and his attempts to reel her back into his plan very nearly fall on deaf ears. What she responds to is the childish part of him, which comes and goes. They are trying to reconnect, but though he can plead with her "don't tell [step]dad" and hug her waist, and she can play a game of secrets with him, fingers on lips, and shush him while he cries, it's not long before he must become an adult again, one that talks of killing. They don't need to find the old connection, they need to forge a new one, and it's what they do as uneasy co-conspirators. Gertrude's reactions in this last sequence are incredible. When Hamlet asks her to throw away the worse part of her cleft heart, she laughs in his face with an expression that says "easier said than done" (because it's not a woman's place to refuse her husband's advances? Or because she can't deny someone she loves or, perhaps, someone who could kill her?). It's why he keeps giving her advice in that sense, showing her how she might stay on the wagon, as it were. Penny Downie's performance is incredibly naturalistic as Gertrude's own mind is in danger of snapping under the emotional strain.
Before Hamlet leaves, a final cruelty. Though he repents what he's done to Polonius, he can't help but pronounce a disdainful eulogy for the man. He gives his mother a quick and surprising kiss on the lips, and knavishly intones his good nights. The absurdity of it all makes her break out laughing, a laugh that immediately turns into a tear-stained grimace. This adaptation of the play continues to enchant and surprise.