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The best Christmas present in the history of best things

Posted by on January 12, 2009

The cough is on the mend and my mind can turn to different, less germy ideas.

Though we had agreed not to get one another Christmas presents this year, Gene and I both cheated. Using one of Hope’s connections, he got me tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, starring Patrick Stewart as Claudius, a sold-out show that I would have given every one of my teeth to see. Thanks to Hope (oh thank you, Hope, thank you, Hope), we saw it from the best seats in the house, front-row center of the dress circle, and for free.

On top of this being the best company I’d ever seen, the best seats I’ve ever seen a show from, and the best play in the English language, it was also the best show I’ve ever been to (and that includes the Color Me Bad concert at Great America). Some highlights:

– The closet scene was not played on Freudian lines, the first time I’ve ever seen the closet scene not played that way. It is remarkable how much more sense the rest of the play makes when Hamlet is not secretly in love with his mum.

– Ophelia has always been a problem for me, because she’s often played so mealy-mouthed that you can’t imagine what, if anything, Hamlet ever saw in her. In this production, she and Hamlet had actual chemistry, and it was clear that their relationship went off the rails due to the constant observation Hamlet was under (a theme underscored by the staging, which consisted for most of the play of giant mirrors and no props).

I also usually hate her madness scene, because she talks too much; it makes her madness much less scary than I think it ought to be. But in this case, when she sings “Quoth she, before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed,” she looks with great significance at Claudius, who immediately looks guilty, as if he really had tumbled her. And later on he seems very eager to put her madness down to her father’s death, as if disclaiming any personal responsibility. It was an interesting little subtext that put a whole new face on her breakdown — and really makes you wonder what Gertrude’s been up to when, after one startled understanding glance at Claudius, she later describes with eerie accuracy the way that Ophelia died.

– Patrick Stewart was so amazing that it wasn’t until the curtain call that I realized, holy shit, Patrick Stewart is standing right in front of me. Up until then he’d been Claudius.

To sum up, this was the most amazing gift I’ve ever gotten, and one of the best nights of my life. I would move to London just to get season tickets to the RSC’s productions. I would move to London just to hang around outside this theater and relive my glory evening.

If you are wondering, I got him a sweater for Christmas.

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