THEATRE / My Favourite Hamlet

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The Independent Culture
SIR PETER HALL, director: Everyone has a Hamlet that's the Hamlet of their generation. Mine was Paul Scofield at Stratford in 1948. He was very young, very romantic, rebellious, moody. It was a daft production, in mid-19th century costume, which really gave Scofield something to kick against. I was 17, and I responded to it very strongly.

IAIN GLEN, actor: There is a whole generation of actors who are not burdened by the great Hamlets of the past. They've a clean sheet on which to draw. I've seen Daniel Day-Lewis, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. But I haven't yet seen the Hamlet of our time. He's very elusive.

IRVING WARDLE, theatre critic: Alan Howard played him as a blood-curdling avenger. David Warner as an alienated child of the 1960s. Bill Wallis played him as fat and scant of breath. Nabil Shaban played him in a motorised wheelchair. Over the years I have briefly succumbed to these and other Hamlets. I would still love to see him pushed to the anti-romantic limit by Simon Russell Beale. But nothing has ever displaced the figure of John Gielgud, whose inflections I absorbed from a set of Linguaphone records before seeing him from the gallery of the Manchester Opera House in the late 1940s: the beautiful, witty, lyrically doomed Prince of Eliot's Prufrock, whose noble melancholy and ironic hauteur are imprinted on my memory as the thing itself. I disagree with that reading, but it is the only one that has ever taken me by the throat.

TREVOR NUNN, director: I remember Ben Kingsley's Hamlet, played conversationally in a very small theatre and in modern dress, because he so shockingly inhabited the landscape of a potential suicide and made the central questions about death in the play almost unbearably personal and confidential. The director, Buzz Goodbody, had just taken her own life.

DONALD SINDEN, actor: I've seen 27 different Hamlets, and I've given up going because the third one is still my favourite - John Gielgud at the Haymarket Theatre in 1944. No one comes anywhere near him for intelligence, for intellect. Shakespeare was full of insight into human frailty, and with Gielgud you never missed a word.

FRANCES BARBER, actress: Jonathan Pryce at The Royal Court, directed by Richard Eyre in 1979. Psychotherapy was just becoming a big thing, which is why he hit a chord with so many people. He produced the voice of his father as a ghost out of his stomach, and you didn't know whether it was just in his imagination, or because he was schizophrenic. For the stressed-out 1990s, it has to be Mark Rylance at the RSC in 1989. He played it like a petulant little shit. He was in his pyjamas at lot of the time. He reminded me of all those boys I'd known at university who wouldn't get out of bed because they were so depressed. All the grown-ups let him get away with it. But Mark's too good an actor not to have got the audience's sympathy as well. I came out thinking, 'Poor little thing.'

ANTONY SHER, actor: Mark Rylance. I've seen the play endless times, and I've never understood what all the fuss was about. But that day I sat for four hours on the edge of my seat; as if I'd never seen it before. The whole production had the effect of taking you into Hamlet's mind, into his madness, into the death of his father that tips him over the edge. It was so raw it was almost unbearable to watch and to listen to. Rylance made it sound as if the words were quite natural to him, as if he speaks like that all the time, which is very hard to do with Shakespearean verse, even for a classical actor. One was never aware of the famous soliloquies coming up, or of the famous quotes. It is very fashionable to say that Hamlet should reflect something of our age. This wasn't the case here. What made it great was the complete originality and truthfulness of it. Somehow it had always seemed to me such an intellectual play. But that afternoon I sat in tears - and laughing.

SYLVIA SYMS, actress: Ian Charleson, who took over from Daniel Day-Lewis when I took over from Judi Dench as Gertrude. Ian was dying of Aids. He didn't play it as a dying man, yet he knew about death.

MICHAEL CODRON, theatrical producer: My most memorable was Michael Redgrave at the RSC in 1958. He was 45, his Gertrude, Coral Browne, was five years younger than him. Yet he managed to totally convincing and poetic.

JONATHAN MILLER, director: The best Hamlet I've ever seen was Hugh Thomas, a young student whom I directed in 1970 in a small undergraduate production that I took on tour in Britain and the US. Of course, I've seen more practised actors, but this was the most exciting. He had an extraordinarily strange and neurotic intensity. He was clever, intense, and very, very young. He was a student. And that's what Hamlet is.

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