Let’s hear a play as Big Finish tackle the Dane!
William Shakespeare’s longest and most quoted play needs no introduction, but just in case. ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’ was written some time between 1599 and 1602. It tells the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark shortly after the death of his father. Meanwhile his ambitious uncle Claudius, who has since taken the throne, married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. Who says soap operas are a modern invention? There’s even an unlikely resurrection in the form of Hamlet’s father. The former King tasks his son with a mission of vengeance against his murderer and usurper. But with the looming threat of war, the whole of Denmark is abused and must pay the theft.
But Few Thy Voice
Practically all great male (and some female) actors take on the role of Hamlet at some point in their careers. Be it on stage, TV, film or radio. In recent years, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Tom Hiddleston and David Tennant have all tread the boards as the Dane. With Big Finish making its first dip into the works of the Bard, how does audio Hamlet hold up?
Abstract Chronicles of the Time
This release can boast a fabulous cast of Big Finish regulars, including Alexander Vlahos in the title role. Miles Richardson plays Claudius as two shades of the same powerful figure. Claudius is strong and commanding as a leader and father figure in public. In private, he openly acknowledges, with an air of resignation, that his actions have damned him. But, even so, he never loses any of that authority in his voice.
Tracey Childs puts in a superb turn as Gertrude and has a chemistry with Richardson that enhances both actors. The small but crucial role of Laertes is given an understated but deft performance from Samuel Barnett. Meanwhile, Deirdre Mullins was clearly having a blast playing Ophelia during her later scenes. Terry Molloy’s comi-tragic Polonius is also a major highlight of the piece. The entire cast is superb and nobody fails to give it their all.
Thou Noble Youth
At 29, Vlahos is neither the oldest or youngest actor to play the part in a major production. But still I get the impression he was shooting for a younger Hamlet. The age that Shakespeare intended for the title character is debated, ranging from 15 to 35 in some discussions. Regardless, the role needs a mature actor to play a character with a clear streak of immaturity. Of course, the challenge is even greater in this medium with only voice to perform with.
Vlahos, an audio veteran with his regular role in ‘The Confessions of Dorian Gray’, brings that talent in spades. He uses a soft and natural tone during soliloquies that suggests Hamlet is getting flashes of insight beyond his years. This is contrasted with the brash tone he uses to accompany his coarser behaviour. It’s a very strong performance worthy of the great stage actors of the day.
All a Length
Clocking in at a hefty three hours, you might be surprised to hear that this is not a full-text adaptation. Crucially, however, the cuts seem to have been spread evenly with the main structure of the play mostly intact. The occasional cut line or trimmed sequence means that die-hard Hamlet purists won’t rankle at missing scenes. Unless you have the text in front of you, most omissions will probably pass unnoticed.
The Time is Out of Joint
It’s increasingly rare for Hamlet adaptations to use the period setting. Even Kenneth Branagh’s otherwise faithful full-text passion project movie tacked on two centuries. While no exact time setting is given in this release, the score suggests the Elizabethan era. Though this makes no difference to the plot, it does occasionally mean that performances have to fit the period. Someone raised on recent film adaptations may come up against some moments at odds with what you’re expecting.
Murder Most Foul
For example, the word “murder” is, funnily enough, said a lot in this play. The cast invariably pronounce it “murther” – outdated today but standard usage at the time. While it’s correct for the time period, even the most faithful adaptations tend to ignore it. Presumably because it makes it sound like the actor developed a sudden lisp during the most dramatic lines. As much as I appreciate the efforts to recreate the experience of seeing it performed during the period, it took me out of the moment every single time.
That minor complaint aside, this is an excellent and unique version of a play that has been performed in almost every conceivable way. Big Finish has wisely eschewed modern trends of gimmicks or celebrity casting when putting together this release. It all demonstrates an appreciation for and focus on the text rather than its reputation, which makes for a really enjoyable listen.
Blogtor Rating – 10/10
This title was released in August 2017. It will be exclusively available to purchase from the BF website until September 30 2017, and on general sale after this date.
“To be or not to be: that is the question…”
Following the death of his father, the King of Denmark, young prince Hamlet returns home to find his mother married to his uncle: the late king’s brother, Claudius.
When Hamlet is later visited by the ghost of his father, he learns that the murderer was actually the King’s own brother and vows to take revenge. However, Hamlet’s contemplative nature works against him, breeding doubt and hesitation at every turn, until the only certainties he has left are madness, betrayal and murder…
Alexander Vlahos stars in this three-hour production of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.
This release also includes twenty-five minutes of roundtable interviews with the cast as they discuss the production.
Script Editor: Justin Richards
Producer: Scott Handcock
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: William Shakespeare
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Alexander Vlahos (Hamlet), Miles Richardson (Claudius), Tracey Childs(Gertrude), Terry Molloy (Polonius), Daniel Brocklebank (Horatio), Deirdre Mullins (Ophelia), Samuel Barnett (Laertes), Jolyon Westhorpe (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Breton (Guildenstern), Barnaby Edwards (The Ghost), Youssef Kerkour (Barnardo), Alex Jordan (Francisco), James Joyce (Marcellus). Other parts played by members of the cast.