We had the first of a series of theatre treats last night that have been lined up for the autumn. We went to see Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I finished work late so decided to drive to Chorlton and have a drink and some early dinner in ODDEST. I could then catch the tram into the city centre and meet the people who I was going to the theatre with and then make our way to the Royal Exchange.
When we got there it felt like Saturday night. I’m told that in the past you could hear a pin drop in Manchester city centre on a Tuesday night but it felt like we were in one of the big, buzzy European cities like Milan, Amsterdam or Barcelona. Which I suppose we have become, its just that, living in the city, it’s happened so gradually that we haven’t noticed. So many people live in the city centre these days it’s had a huge effect on the atmosphere. It was warm and dry on the last night of September. There were 1000s of well dressed Italians in the city having an early dinner before making their way out to the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester City/Roma game. And it was the MCR Student Takeover but more of that later. The shops were open late and people were in town for the theatres and concerts. I like Manchester when its all vibrant and cosmopolitan.
On Cross Street I spotted these two beauties dressed as Marie Antoinette. Why? Why not? I love that two guys can dress like this and walk down one of the main streets in the city and not get beaten up. Quite the opposite. People were delighted to see them. We are a very tolerant city.
In St. Ann’s Square there was a pavilion as part of the MCR Student Takeover. The MST is an event that happens once a year just after the students come back to study. The universities reopened last week bringing life back to the Oxford Road corridor after its summer slumber. The MST is designed to get the students to know their new home. The stores stay open late, discounts are offered and there is entertainment in the streets. It’s a lot of fun.
The pavilion was full of fashion stalls and there was an event to which Manchester fashion bloggers had been invited talk about what they do. I noticed a guy, Jordan J McDowell, who I know whose blog I follow (Fashion Rambler). We met once at a fashion based party in Kendal’s and I’ve spotted his bright orange satchel in the distance a couple of times but we mostly keep in touch through the blogs and TWITTER. There he was dispensing fashion advice to the freshers whose clothes bought in Barry, Scunthorpe, Gateshead (fill in name of town as appropriate) aren’t going to cut the mustard in Manchester. I surprised him with this pic on TWITTER this morning.
I liked the mobile DJs in the streets and squares pumping out club music.
And then it was to the Royal Exchange Theatre for Hamlet. It’s one of Shakespeare’s plays I’ve not seen before. Basically Hamlet’s father, also called Hamlet, King of Denmark, has been murdered by his brother, Claudius. Within weeks of the murder, Claudius has married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Hamlet isn’t pleased with this situation and realises what’s gone on. The rest of the play is about how Hamlet’s desire for revenge on his uncle impacts on all the other characters. I wont spoil the ending for anyone who doesn’t know it, but this is a Shakespeare tragedy and it doesn’t end well. I lost count of the bodies. It was ‘The Godfather’ or ‘The Sopranos’ transposed to Cheshire (with added scally, scouser gravediggers) via the medieval Court of Denmark at Elsinore. Kind of weird but it worked.
It’s an unusual production in that Hamlet is played by a woman, the wonderful Maxine Peake. She’s a local actor who lives in the Salford area of the city and, in spite of her fame, hasn’t decamped to London. She’s very careful with her projects on the TV, in films and the theatre and if you see she’s going to be in something it’s always going to be worth watching. In this she was brilliant. With her blond hair cropped short and carefully cut clothes you forgot she was a woman and she became the young Prince Hamlet. When she was on you were fixed on her. At the end she was allowed a well deserved bow to herself, something which the ensemble based Royal Exchange doesn’t do often. I’ve seen the great and the good of the theatre world take their bows with the actors with one line here. It was deserved though. She carried the play. And I’ve discovered that there is a long tradition of women playing Hamlet.
Not that the rest of the cast were shabby. It was an accomplished cast who made the 3 hour long play spellbinding as we worked through the beautiful language to the play’s grim conclusion. There aren’t many women’s parts in this play, just Gertrude and Hamlet’s doomed love interest, Ophelia. So some of the roles traditionally given to men were given to women. And a major character, Polonius, became female and was renamed Polonia. This bit worked but I was less than convinced about Polonia having a white daughter (Ophelia) and a black son (Laertes). Genetically, with a white mother, the son was an impossibility. That’s not to detract from the acting ability of any of the actors who played the parts.
Because of the inclusion of Maxine Peake in the cast, it has been a sell out and deservedly so. As I said it wasn’t a play I’ve not seen and, like all Shakespeare plays, it was fun to see how many phrases from Hamlet are used by people on a daily basis without realising where the come from….
‘NEITHER A BORROWER NOR A LENDER BE’
‘THAT IT SHOULD COME TO THIS’
‘GET THEE TO A NUNNERY’
THE LADY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH, METHINKS’
‘IN MY MIND’S EYE’
And slightly amended…
‘WHEN SORROWS COME,THEY COME NOT SINGLE SPIES, BUT IN BATTALIONS’
THOUGH THIS BE MADNESS, YET THERE IS METHOD IN ‘T’