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Hamlet with David Tennant, Patrick Stewart

When I go and see a Shakespeare play, it usually takes me between five and ten minutes to get my ear attuned to the language, and a little longer to get accustomed to the non-naturalistic acting. Particularly with the tragedies, there is a possibility for histrionics but David Tennant managed to resist them. In fact, sometimes his acting was so understated it was almost TV acting, with its reliance on close-ups rather than the larger-than-life movements and voices required at the theatre. His was a witty, self-aware Hamlet, driven by anger rather than grief. His reserve only broke in the scene in which he and Gertrude have their showdown in her chamber, when you could have heard a pin drop in the full Stratford house. That was a bravura performance.

The whole cast was very strong. Patrick Stewart played the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and the murdering uncle. His was also an impressive performance, but I find him too theatrical, too self-consciously thespian. Penny Downie was excellent as Gertrude, Mark Hadfield supplied welcome comic relief as the gravedigger, but for me the best supporting actor was Oliver Ford Davis as Polonius, played as a pompous forgetful windbag.

This was a cracking production by Greg Doran, directed with verve and an eye for humour, but it was David Tennant’s show—after all, Hamlet speaks 1,507 of the play’s 4,042 lines. I don’t know whether his will be considered an all-time great Hamlet, but it was energetic and enjoyable and showed that he’s far more than just a sexy TV personality (although he is that too of course). Overheard on the way out: a fourteen year old girl breathlessly telling her mother, “Wow! In the second curtain call, he was definitely looking and waving at me!”

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23 Responses to “ Hamlet with David Tennant, Patrick Stewart ”

Comment by Todd

No, he was looking at me.

Now Bruce, is this the same patrick Stewart that played Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: TNG and isn’t he a veteran of Shakespearean theater for many years?

Comment by Bill Lees

I do hope Tennant didn’t play the role in his bloody irritating cod-Estuary English Dr Who cockernee accent.

Comment by Tara

Thanks for this review! I am making the trip to London from the U.S. in December to see David play Hamlet, and I cannot wait to be there in person to experience it! All the reviews I have read thus far seem to indicate that he is, indeed, the impeccably talented actor that I have always believed him to be. Glad to know I’m not biased. ;o)

Comment by Bruce

Todd, yes: it was Hamlet starring Dr Who and Captain Pickard.

Bill: he abandoned his native Scottish, indeed.

Tara: now you must be a big fan. I only had to drive 30 minutes!

Comment by JackP

You called?

Well, I heard someone mention ‘Captain Pickard’, anyway…

Glad it was good. If it’s interfering with me being able to watch a proper full series of Dr. Who next year, it bloomin’ well better be good 🙂

Comment by Malcolm

I am a big Tennant fan, but his Hamlet was competent but NOT Excellent. In contrast other members of the cast were very good and Patrick Stewart was brilliant.

Tennant seemed to play the role rather stayed – mind you many of the audience just seemed happy that they were seeing him – PERIOD. Many were too in love with him to see any flaws in his performance. Many probably had never seen any other versions of Hamlet to compare.

Tennant was mobbed after the show by autograph hunters shouting ‘I love you’. Before I get flamed: I do admire him for attempting such a difficult role and I’m sure that he will find his feet.

Comment by Bruce

“competent but NOT Excellent” – yes, that about sums up my thoughts too Malcom.

Where did they mob Tennant? Surely not on the stage?

Comment by Malcolm


A big mob (of mainly women, many of whom were older enough to know better) waited for him at the stage door on Saturday. When Stewart appeared he got a mild cheer, but when Tennant appeared, he got screams and lots of “I love you David”s. The RSC have apparently put up signs saying only RSC merchandize will be signed (and not Dr. who). I later heard that a sign went up saying ‘no autographs’ but I don’t know if that’s true.

Tennant commented in the press that he can no longer go to his favourite Cafe in Stratford because it always turns into a Sci Fi convention now! Rumour has it that Tennant may sign for more Dr Who in 2010, lured by a reported £1.5 million.

He may not be the world’s best Shakespearian actor, but he certainly has something. In fact my wife tells me that he actually has everything!:-)

Comment by Lucy

I have to say that anyone who keeps my children silently watching a Shakespeare play for nearly 4 hours has to be a fantastically brilliant actor – Dr Who or not! They loved the performance as did my husband and I and thought the whole cast did a fantastic job. Have to also say it’s sad David Tennant can no longer go to his cafe but I think it is fairly widely known in Stratford where he has breakfast (or did!), where he drinks and which road he is living in. It’s a small town!!

Comment by John

Yes it is true, most of Stratford have been David Tennant watching. Been seen at the local supermarket too. One comment I had from somebody who saw the play was was that he did not have enough ‘existential angst’ However he played the freedom of madness well and my teenage son who takes alot of impressing was blown away by the production. The production was the best I have seen at Stratford. Director Greg Doran went to the effort in rehersal of taking Ophelia down the river bank to look at how hard it would be to pick the flowers – and how easy it would be to fall in. That’s preparation!

Comment by bruce

“he did not have enough ‘existential angst’ However he played the freedom of madness well” – yes. absolutely spot on.

About Ophelia – I didn’t mention her because I find the grieving Ophelia to be so preposterous (with all the singing and the flowers) that I always want to laugh. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most histrionic scenes.

Comment by Malcolm

“I have to say that anyone who keeps my children silently watching a Shakespeare play for nearly 4 hours has to be a fantastically brilliant actor – Dr Who or not”

He was not good enough to stop the kid behind my seat kicking it for four hours! Why do kids have so little control of their limbs?

I think the press reviews come soon. I don’t think that they are going to be very kind about his performance. As I’ve said, I’m a big fan of Tennant’s TV work, but I did not find his Hamlet to be that impressive compared to others I’ve seem live. (Mel Gibson’s Hamlet is worth seeing in his movie, although a movie cannot be compared to the live experience).


Comment by Malcolm


Gibson made Hamlet in 1990 you can still buy the DVD or watch bits on ‘You Tube’.

I kid you not, he plays the poart very well! Lots of madness and anger. (…and I’m not even a Gibson fan).

Comment by Bill Lees

You can normally find most RSC actors in the Mucky Duck straight after the performance. Well, you could before they started re-building the main theatre.

Comment by Lucy

Malcolm – at least I can guarantee it wasn’t my kids kicking your seat!! I think it’s great to get kids interested in the theatre and if David Tennant et al encourage that, it has to be a good thing. But if they kick a seat, yawn, talk or rustle sweets – out they go! I don’t relish other children behind me either but it amazed me at how entranced my two were by the whole performance and how much they understood (although they did have a vague idea of the plot beforehand). It wasn’t just David Tennant they enjoyed – it was the whole production. Now we’re looking forward to Love’s Labour’s Lost!

Comment by dorinda

Time was when audience members might easily find actors in the Mucky duck, or local equivalent, and be able to have a private ‘talk-back’ session over a pint.
Not any more -not with actors becoming dangerously almost more important than what play they’re in. Now they probably couldn’t pop out for a sticky bun without getting mobbed!

Comment by Bill Lees

By the way, Bruce, I forgot to ask you how the bloody hell you managed to get a ticket to see this production. Did you have to bum David Tennant?

Comment by Bruce

Booked about a year ago, when it was first announced. There’s no truth in the rumour that he made me fondle his sonic screwdriver for a ticket.

Comment by Malcolm

I booked very late. All the tickets had been snapped up, but the Keith Prowse ticket Agency were selling a Hotel+ticket package. The combined cost of ticket+Hotel was about the same as if I had purchased both seperately.

However, I’d not normally pay £110 per night, per room, for my accomodation.

Comment by Jennifer

I made the trip over from the States to England for Hamlet (though I made a more ‘touristy’ trip out of it by being there for 2 weeks and enjoying all the other stuff England/London has to offer). And I thought he was great. That may be because I’m fairly new to the whole theater world (as this is my first venture into seeing more than a local performance of something such as Shakespeare, which I did a few times in high school.. I’m only in university now), so I’m not as attune to the problems and what might make a performance not as legendary. He’s not the best in the world, but I think he’s settling into the roll and I think he did a fairly decent job in my eyes. It’s made me respect him even more as an actor, and it was a brilliant way to end my trip.

And I think this play has done it’s job. Part of the reason I think the cast is how it is, is to attract younger audiences to the Bard, and honestly, if I could go see another performance at the RSC (Tennant in it or not), I would most definately.

Comment by joe

gf and i went to see hamlet and are going to watch love labours lost on tuesday 7th. booked into the swan hotel last time but found a nice cheaper b&b for £60. found the david tennant watching on this thread amusing although I would be in gf’s good books if we found his cafe and had breakfast with him lol

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