Gareth Thomas in Hamlet

By Julia Jones

The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 17 Feb 2001
or, who cares if I'm jet-lagged?

And so back to the UK for the farewell tour before moving to the US. First port of call is Edinburgh, to see my aunt, and incidentally go to see Gareth Thomas playing Polonius in Hamlet. This is A Good Thing for me in two ways - a chance to see my favourite actor in Shakespeare, and a chance to see a Shakespeare that I have not seen before.

An assortment of the usual suspects were there, but owing to a minor hiccup the long-distance travellers were accommodated in a variety of spare beds across Edinburgh and Glasgow. The minor hiccup in question was the Scotland-Wales rugby match being held at Murrayfield, and hence a complete absence of B&B accommodation under a hundred quid. The party met at the Brunton in time to see if there was enough space to sneak onto the touch tour for the visually impaired. They were very nice and let us go along, although the price for this was being referred to as "the groupies".

It was fascinating to see the set and some of the costumes and props up close. I particularly appreciated it, as I'm very short-sighted and my contact lenses didn't seem to be quite right for a few days after the long flight from Australia. Some things were completely fake when seen up close, others, such as the swords, were *very* real. The stagehand handling the swords allowed interested parties to examine them closely, although we weren't allowed to handle them much for safety reasons. Beautiful things, with engraved blades. It's also the first time I've had a chance to see backstage with the set in place - interesting to see the way the entrances and exits work, and how the theatre looks from the cast's perspective. I had a chance to confirm something that occurred to me rather too late when I saw Twelfth Night last year - yes, the actor playing Orsino could have seen me admiring the fit of his leather trousers...

The quality of the production itself was mixed. Several excellent or good actors and good direction, but some of the cast were only so-so - and the cast also included members of the local youth theatre group, who were utterly abysmal. I gather from some of the comments in the newspaper cuttings displayed in the lobby that these last were included for funding and political reasons. A pity, as they dragged down one section of what would otherwise have been a very enjoyable production.

Liam Brennan as Hamlet was superb, with an interpretation that had the young prince quite sane but faking madness in order to discover the truth about his father's death. Michael Mackenzie, in a double role as Claudius and the ghost, was also excellent. Gareth, needless to say, was wonderful as Polonius, portraying him not as a buffoon but a man well aware of the dangers of his position, inclined to go on at length when he's nervous but by no means stupid. Perfect timing in the delivery, putting new twists on the lines. Also some lovely acting when he was on stage but not the focus of attention, not drawing attention away from where it should be, but still in character if you happened to glance at him. Rather nice partial beard for this occasion - the photo is now up at Judith's website.

Gareth's other role was the gravedigger - a *Welsh* gravedigger. Very Welsh. (Gareth's comment in the cafe afterwards was that he'd agreed to double on the gravedigger as long as he could do it with a Welsh accent, this being an accent not heard that often on the Scottish stage.) With a full (fake, but good fake) beard. Different body language as well, one of the reasons I like Gareth as an actor is his versatility.

All three actors made the Shakespearean English clear and comprehensible, despite the array of accents on display. They caught the rhythm of the lines just right. I enjoyed this play a lot; I wish the rest of the cast had been of the calibre of these three actors, but it was still a well-spent evening.

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Last updated on 18th of March 2001.