‘Look, it’s snowing. What does that mean?’
(Chekhov, Three Sisters)
Looking out over this weekend’s white-out in London, I had a little think about the role snow can play onstage...
Hamlet (Michael Grandage/Jude Law 2009)
|The Donmar's Hamlet at the Wyndham's theatre|
Snow, a dark stone wall. As the third act begins, Jude Law hugs himself for warmth as he delivers the famous soliloquy. This cold setting increased the sense both of Hamlet’s vulnerability and of his toughness, his ability to endure. For me (and a surprising majority of critics) the lines were delivered well, evoking strength and angst in equal measure. Not so for everyone. The Spectator’s Matthew Ancona detected a palpable smugness: ‘You feel that what he really means is – 'To be fabulous, or to be even more fabulous.’ Ouch, frosty.
Billington dubbed the National’s 2008 debut production of the play ‘a madcap but exuberant debate on idealism in a cold climate.’ For me, the madcap won out. Tony Harrison’s play journeys between the Westminster Abbey of today and the ‘Fram’ - the Arctic ship of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, during his expedition to the North Pole in the 1890s. In this bizarre epic, our guide is not Vergil but the Classical scholar Gilbert Murray, along with - believe it or not - veteran actress Sybil Thorndike. Think glaciers, a touch of Live Aid, and rhyming couplets. Yes really.
Three Sisters, Chekhov
‘Father died exactly a year ago, this very day… It was very cold then - snowing’, says Olga in the play’s opening lines. Snow itself never appears onstage in Chekhov’s script, but mention is made of it frequently throughout the play, whatever the season, maintaining a shroud of bleakness and isolation over the sisters. ‘We live in a climate where it snows at the drop of a hat’, says Masha, ‘and on top of it all, people keep talking, talking…’
Bingo by Edward Bond*
|Patrick Stewart in Bingo at the Young Vic|
* Icy fingers crossed I’ll get a ticket to see Patrick Stewart in Bingo at the Young Vic this month!