Two weeks ago a few of us were lucky enough to see Rory Kinnear's Hamlet at the National Theatre in London, and then to have him come round to talk to us after breakfast the following morning.
He turned out to be an awfully nice guy, and a very natural human sort of chap. But even if you can't ask him a question or see him in person, you can still see his Hamlet up close and personal on the big sceen in our theatre Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week at 7:00. I'm really looking forward to it. The broadcasts have been excellent, and the National mounted an eastern block surveillence style spectacle on the Olivier stage that should transfer well to the big screen. But best of all is the chance to see and hear Rory Kinnear, the latest in a remarkably good series of Hamlets to recently appear on the English stage (Simon Russell Beale, Ben Wishaw, David Tennant being other notable Danes). Kinnear is the very best thing about this often self conscious new production--his Hamlet is sympathetic, intelligent, with at least as much hair as another prince recently in the English news.
In conversation, Kinnear said he grew up in unusual circumstances, as the child of two actors (his father Roy was a much beloved character actor and funny man). This meant he thought of acting as a job you could do, something you could make a regular living out of, like plumbing. And so it has proved. Kinnear has steadily plied his trade as a working actor on the British stage. A few years ago he played Laertes, now he plays the Prince of Denmark. His Angelo in Measure for Measure last year was much admired ---and he was selected by some critics as the British actor of the year. He's not a super stud. He's not haunted looking. He's not especially tall or handsome or impish or rugged or demonic. He looks very much like a nice looking English bloke who could be standing with a scarf and coat next to you waiting for the train to Charing Cross. His wife has just given birth to their first child. He would be the first to tell you he's had a good life so far.
When someone asked him if he had accessed the grief he felt over his father's death in playing the role of Hamlet, he said no. In the first place he was 11 years old when his dad died suddenly; in the second he said the the grief he felt for his father's death was not the same as Hamlet's grief. Grief is not interchangeable.
He said approaching Hamlet he was concerned to represent a man who was not really cut out for the revenge business. He said he also wanted to be quite clear about Hamlet's madness---or rather to present a Hamlet that might play mad but that was not actually mad himself; he felt that "madness" was a generalized trap many Danes have fallen into. Seeing his performance in the Olivier, you can see he has been true to his intentions. I have rarely seen a Hamlet who drew the line so clkearly between his sanity and his "antic disposition." And his Hamlet remains sympathetic throughout-- he's even visibly shaken and saddened to have killed Polonious (this in spite of a text which is consistenly ironic and mocking: "I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room"). His mother is a drunk, his stepfather is Putin, Laertes is a roaring boy, Ophelia is a cypher, his pals are twerpy spies, Polonious is a bureaucrat pol, and there is no one else in Elsinore with any claim on our affections. We are alone with Hamlet, and yet with Rory Kinnear we are in a world of tragic but excellent company.