Thursday, March 02, 2006

He Plays A Good Part . . .

My mother used to say that about people she'd seen on the television (early days when they had real live plays in wonderful black and white on one or other of the only two English t.v. channels).

Being a sophisticated young individual, I, of course, dismissed the idea of her ability to have a valid point of view as nonsense and out of the window went the comment. The play, after all, is the thing.

To reduce the art of acting to 'playing' and the serious work and effort that goes into the creation of a character - a believable, living entity - as a 'good part' revealed much more about my mother's limited education and sensibilites than critical insight.

Mistake, it came to haunt me latter on - and is still echoing.

Some years later, and rather a lot of years ago, I went to watch the film version of Hamlet, the one with Mel Gibson in it, in Manchester shortly after it was released. It was not the greatest of cinemas, but there was a bit of a queue: All young women there to watch Mel in HIS new film.

Women just like my mother - Mel plays a good part so we will go and watch him in his new film.

My intellectual arrogance bristled. Shakespeare's character, Hamlet, his great play, Hamlet, were all more to the forefront of my mature world view than a mere Australian/American actor.

It turned out that they were a much better audience than most I have been in for Hamlet.

First, they didn't know the story (believe me, they did not know the ending). As the rapid sequence of deaths at the end of the play occured - there were gasps of shock, and squeals. All the way through the audience had been very attentive - following events for the first time. (Incidentally, a complement to the film - the language was not a barrier.)

Second, they had no respect for Shakespeare (if anything, the opposite had been ingrained by years of enduring the poor bugger's 'easier' texts thrust down their throats in not too good schools). No preconceptions about great art; no need to sit in respectful silence as the immortal words washed over them.

In effect, they actually 'enjoyed' the film. Mel, of course, played a good part!

Few members of the audience in modern Britain can come out of a production of Hamlet and say they enjoyed it - that they didn't find parts of it boring, if not the whole of it. For the most part they will be students studying the text, or older people who have studied it. The freshness has staled.

I suspect we go to the theatre (serious theatre that is) far too often with the idea of cutting another notch in our cultural record - it is good, so we are good.

It is a pity there aren't a lot more Mel Gibson fans out there.

1 comment:

bardseyeview said...

I absolutely agree with you about Mel's Hamlet. He knew his audience, and presented a version that was accessible to them. Shakespeare did the rest, and I think that's why the drama got through.

Hollywood may be avoiding tragedies (pet theory alert) because you can't make sequels out of them. The director of the Titanic had a hard time pitching the story because of this - the fact that he made the Terminator movies helped seal the deal.