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This report is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Through Hamlet's Eyes Timothy Harris

Two years ago, Peter Brook's version of Hamlet for eight players and a musician was performed at the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, where I saw it, and subsequently at the Young Vic in London. The original performances were at Brook's base, Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, in Paris. I was very impressed by certain aspects of the production, particularly the performance of Adrian Lester as Hamlet, but had some reservations, reservations that have been reinforced by the high-definition video of this Hamlet that is now available. By denying Brook the strengths that spring from live performance, the video brings out the weaknesses of the production more clearly. The principal weakness lies in Brook's conception, and this weakness may be summed up in Harley Granville Barker's remark about the play as a whole: 'Hamlet so dominates the play that we are too apt to see things through his eyes.' In the interview that accompanied the showing of the video on Japanese television, Brook said that 'many, many great authorities have said that Hamlet is an artistic failure', and that this was so because Shakespeare did not conceive of the play as a whole since he was re-working an older and 'not very good... melodrama'. Granville Barker certainly thought that Shakespeare had been unable to 'so assimilate character and story that no incongruities appear', but equally certainly he did not judge the play an artistic failure (his Preface on Hamlet is by far the longest of the Prefaces). That was ...

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