Friday 14 April 2017

THEATRE: Hamlet for Free at Almeida Theatre (13/4/17)

OK so it isn't music related (though there was a lot of music) but I feel a huge need to write about my trip to the Almeida Theatre yesterday for Hamlet for Free, a week of free performances of Andrew Scott's Hamlet, as well as a bunch of other events, all free and all for under 25s. Well, the blog is called 'Cool Music And Things' and I've never really been sure what those 'things' were, and as Hamlet himself says - 'The play's the thing.' So here goes!

I caught the play last Wednesday and was ridiculously excited to see it again, particularly as part of this incredible scheme for young people. I don't think I'd be alone in saying that I sometimes feel pretty intimated at a play as a young person, particularly with Shakespeare. I'm an English literature student, I've paid for the ticket and have as much right as any audience member to be there, but there's a misbelief that theatre isn't for young people, a sense that you're being looked down on, a pressure to dress or act in a certain way, and very often stories in the media about young people disrupting the performance by taking photos etc, all working to discourage young people from attending plays. This is why it is so great that initiatives like this exist, encouraging young people to get along to the theatre and see one of their favourite actors do what they do best before their eyes. I'm easily into double figures for plays over the last couple of years but for some younger Sherlock fans this was probably their first time seeing a play - and what a play to start with!

Announced only a few days ago, we were lucky to grab tickets to a special Q&A with Andrew and the theatre's artistic director Rupert Goold in the afternoon. Rupert questioned Andrew about how he first got into acting as a child and his process of preparing for the play both in the months leading up to it, the rehearsals and on the day of a performance. It was entertaining and really interesting to get an insight into these processes, and while I didn't get a chance to ask a question as I always wimp out in these situations, if I had, it would've been about how on earth actors can deal with the emotional toll of performing a play like this every night. The character of Hamlet in particular goes on a crazy emotional rollercoaster and every day he's got to return to the start, and act as if he doesn't know what's to come, I don't think it'll ever not amaze me that actors are able to do that! Some particular highlights of the session were Andrew saying that one thing he'd like to see change about theatre are the prices (another way to freeze out younger theatregoers), that he doesn't subscribe to the idea of 'high art' and believes that a soap opera can have fascinating plots too, and his analogy of Shakespeare's plays as like sheet music, intimidating at first but a process of learning how you'd like to play it as an actor. It was also especially great to hear them celebrating young theatre audiences, with Andrew saying wholeheartedly that the audiences this week had been the best in the run, and that older audiences often seem to think they own Shakespeare, attending with a level of cynicism. 

Andrew Scott in conversation with Rupert Goold
After a little trip to Five Guys (yum) we queued up for a bit as the seats were unallocated, and managed to get on the front row of a little side block of seats. It's a really beautiful and intimate theatre and we were right in the action, with the actors walking down the aisle next to me throughout the performance. The play was four hours long but didn't feel like an endurance as you might imagine, and it was possibly even better than last week's performance - I think (big claim) this might be the best play I've ever seen. Takes quite a lot to top James McCavoy's performance in The Ruling Class but it might just have done that. The cast includes Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude and Jessica Brown Findlay as Ophelia and they were all brilliant, but Andrew's performance in the leading role is on another level, taking the audience along on the character's journey with him and making us laugh, cry, and be a little scared at points

I have to reiterate somebody's compliment in the Q&A that his delivery makes it seem as if he's genuinely saying the words for the first time, and as if no actor before him has said them, his performance is 'fresh and unpredictable' (Evening Standard review). To top off an incredible evening we hung around in what I have to say was a really organised stage door queue (hats off to the theatre security!) and I got to meet Andrew, tell him how amazing it was and grab a hug and a signature - he's a total sweetheart. 

Sadly if you haven't got along to the show yet, its run at Almeida finishes tomorrow, but after being pretty much sold out the whole way through it's transferring to the West End soon, running from the start of June to the start of September at the Harold Pinter Theatre - tickets through ATG here! I'm intrigued to see how the shift from this intimate space where the actors can see the audience, and walk (and sit, at points) amongst them to a much larger theatre changes the play, but I've got every confidence that it'll carry on being just as brilliant and would certainly recommend that you get along to see it if you can. 

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