Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Cumberbatch Does Hamlet…

…Or Theatre Etiquette for the Elderly

The dort, as some of you will probably know, is studying for her degree. She’s been a busy woman since she left school. She worked for a professional dance qualification, made a film, did some tv and some videos, taught, and finally decided it was time to move into her preferred profession. To do that she first had to study.

She takes it all very seriously, including continuing to do some dancing. She’s all go, non-stop. I rather admire her for it.

The dort has always been a performer, so unsurprisingly, to get where she wants to be, she’s undertaken to complete her studies in drama. One of the first plays she’s looking at is Hamlet. This pleases me; I do like that they’re beginning with Shakespeare, and with something pretty demanding. It bodes well.

Hamlet, National Theatre Live
The dort is seeing a lot of theatre. She takes herself off to any number of local theatres, and into London to catch whatever performances she can. She tried very hard to get tickets for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the National Theatre, but she was unlucky; it’s a short run, he’s a popular actor, and, in her price range, the play was sold out.

However, the University has very good facilities, including the Gulbenkian theatre, and the National Theatre has a very good scheme. The Gulbenkian put on a National Theatre Live screening of Hamlet, which the dort was able to see.

The play was filmed live at the National Theatre and shown at selected cinemas throughout the country, many of them attached to universities. I think it’s a rather brilliant idea.

The screening at the Gulbenkian was massively oversubscribed, so the theatre was able to have a second screening. Because the dort was so impressed with Cumberbatch’s performance she wanted to see it again, and because she knows that the husband and I take a keen interest in all things literary, she asked if we’d like tickets. We jumped at the chance.

So, on Sunday afternoon, four of us, including a friend of the dort, toddled off to watch the show.

I know Hamlet quite well. I suppose with my background, I really ought to, but I think this is probably the best version of it that I’ve seen. The acting was universally good, although Cumberbatch was outstanding, but, more than that, great sense had been made of the text. The director, Lindsey Turner clearly made a careful study of the play, found its rhythm, cleverly identified areas of light and shade and nuance, and was perspicacious when it came to characterisation.

Hamlet and Ophelia delivered stunning performances, and Horatio, Gertrude and Claudius were also standouts. There really were no weak links. The staging was beautifully done, and costuming was appropriate. I loved this production and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly those studying the play; this production had real clarity, shining a light on Shakespeare for another generation.

You all thought you were going to get through one of my blogs without a snark, didn’t you?

Well, almost.

The one thing I won’t do again, is attend the Gulbenkian Theatre on a Sunday afternoon. I thought nothing of it at the time; the husband and I quite regularly spend a couple of hours on a Sunday watching a movie, but it’s generally at home.

I don’t know what young people do on Sunday afternoons, possibly study or sleep off their hangovers, or maybe go for a cheeky Nandos. What young people don’t do on Sunday afternoons is go to the theatre.

The Gulbenkian offers a membership scheme. Anyone can join for an annual fee, and benefit from reduced ticket prices. The annual membership is further reduced for students, pensioners and the disabled.

On Sunday afternoons a great many very well-heeled old people turn up at the Gulbenkian theatre, having bought their cheap tickets to enjoy the benefits of this wonderful resource. I don’t blame them; as soon as I’ve finished writing this, I’m off to the website to join, too. I just won’t be going to the theatre on Sunday afternoons.

It turns out that old people are intolerant and bloody rude.

It began when we arrived to take our seats. We were on time, but the house lights were going down. It’s not unusual for people to have to stand to allow others passage to their assigned seats, but the tutting and sighing… totally unnecessary, particularly as we’d very politely excused ourselves and thanked all over the place.

We’d also taken drinks and snacks into the theatre, again not unusual. We work a lot, including the dort, it was two o’clock in the afternoon, and we hadn't found time for lunch. More tutting and sighing and the people in the row in front of us turned around to glare. I wouldn’t mind, but we’re extremely considerate people. We weren’t being noisy, we weren’t throwing food around, we didn’t have anything that smelled. We were simply sipping cups of coffee. I had a muffin for heaven’s sake! How loud can a muffin be? I chew with my mouth closed! The dort tipped her popcorn into her woolly hat and ate it out of that because she didn’t dare eat it out of the bag for fear it might rustle.

We were in a theatre for crying out l loud! The Gulbenkian has rules for what food and drink can be taken into the space, and rightly so, but it’s a living, breathing theatre with a living, breathing audience.

I like to feel like part of an audience; that’s one of the reasons for going to the theatre, and, in particular the cinema, for the shared experience. I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen with this group of people. It didn’t matter that someone in our vicinity had a chronic flatulence problem and was perfuming the air with his farts, or that one old gentleman had to get up every half an hour… He was one of them, but heaven forbid I should stifle a cough!

Unfortunately, at the interval, I needed to leave the auditorium. I was hot and uncomfortable, and I wanted some air. I would have preferred to remain in my seat, and I was right to want to remain, because, despite being polite, there was all that tutting and sighing again when the poor souls in the adjacent seats had to get to their feet to allow me to pass. I brought the dort a can of drink back with me, but made sure she opened it before the house lights went down. Nevertheless, someone in front of her turned and glared.

There’s no reason for this kind of behaviour, and it’s very sad. It suggests that old people expect bad behaviour, expect to be put out, expect rudeness and disruption in their lives and are constantly on the defensive… Or maybe they’re just entitled arseholes, although I prefer to think that they’re not. I do hope they’re not.

The old people around us couldn’t be described as the average pensioners. They were very well dressed, the women were made-up and coiffured, with smart shoes and handbags. They live in one of the richest areas of the country. The carpark was full of Mercedes and Jaguars… Very full, so full that we had to park our mini in the overflow carpark. Not for nothing, we’re also not exactly young, so I’m not sure what their problem with us was. We might have been wearing jeans and shirts, but we’re not exactly slobs, either. We were quiet, polite, thoughtful, our phones were turned off, and we were there for the Shakespeare, too. The dort had liked it so much the first time, she was there for a second viewing! And, not for nothing this was a screening of a play, so there was no way to distract live actors on a stage.

I can’t help thinking that Shakespeare wouldn’t have cared if we’d talked through one of his contemporary performances. I imagine that people did, that they laughed and cried, ate and drank, and danced in the bloody aisles.

The performance was great. We enjoyed it immensely.

When we go to see a play, we buy the programme, because we like to know who has contributed to the production. It’s a kind of acknowledgement on our part to read those names. We like to give credit where credit is due. When we go to the cinema, we like to sit through the credits for the very same reason.

There was no programme to buy at this event. At the end of the screening, the credits began to roll. The people in the row of seats in front of us all got up and began to talk and fuss about, putting on coats and collecting their belongings. I started to try to look around them to read the credits, but it was impossible.

The husband had no qualms about speaking out. He was polite, but quite firm. The woman in front of him made a curt apology, but continued to go about her business. Nobody sat back down or got out of the way. By the time they had said their goodbyes with a lot of cheek-kissing and waving, still standing in front of us, and then vacated the area, the credits had rolled on by, and we had missed them.

So, I loved Hamlet, and the Gulbenkian is a great theatre, but I won’t be going back on a Sunday afternoon. I’ll take my chances with a midweek, evening performance next time. I’ll take my chances with the younger, student audience, because I’m much more likely to have the kind of shared experience with them that I’m looking for.

1 comment:

  1. Wowzers, I'm always so amazed at how very different our environments are.
    Where I live, the old people are extremely careful not to upset anyone for fear that they'll be stripped of their purses, wallets, valuables, keys, cell phones and walkers in the parking lot afterwards right.
    We respect our elderly so much that we have no problems dumpin' 'em outta their wheelchairs if we think we can sell 'em for a twenty eh.
    I wonder which is better, annoying old people or scared...