David Warner in Hamlet (1965) directed by Peter Hall
Hamlet premiered in Stratford-Upon-Avon in August 1965.
David Warner was 24 years old.
Despite mixed reviews,
he became the most memorable Hamlet of his generation.
Harold Robson (undated)David Warner has been strongly criticised because he does not move or speak or drink like a prince. As a matter of fact, few princes do. (...) All that the criticism amounts to is that from his rustic, farmhand appearance, no one could possibly suppose that he was born of well-to-do chartered accountants in a good suburb and educated at one of the lesser public schools. But there is no difficulty at all in imagining his background to be an ancient castle, Eton or Oxford.
What matters of course, is not the sober cut fo the gentlemanly suiting, but the inner authority. Mr. Warner has that all right, and when the occasion demands, he can interpret it in glittering physical terms. He may stoop from his outrageous height, wave his arms like a scythe, howl to the moon, and go after the king at a most unrefined gallop, but, if the immediate situation dictates it, he is spare, controlled, deadly, and most royally confident.
For a long time in the duelling scene, he stands perfectly still, hardly troubling to move his sword, smiling unforgivingly while the active, sweating Laertes tries in vain to get at him from all angles. If, as people seem to believe, one of the functions of Hamlet is to make the commonalty feel their commonness, I have never seen the thing better done. It is an assertion of distinction based, not on artificial considerations, but on an obvious superiority of nerve and skill.
When Mr. Warner speaks the great soliloquys he comes to the front of the stage and rakes the first few rows of the stalls with ravaged eyes, searching distractedly for a comfort that is not there or anywhere. Besides the enormity of his private sorrow, affairs of state are a secondary consideration. So much so that in a sensational treatment of his last speech, Mr. Warner makesHamlet's dying vote for Fortinbras a joke.
This Hamlet is not merely off-beat; it is better in intellect and emotion than any conventional interpretation one is likely ot see for some time. There are moments when it gets to the very top of theatrical experience.
When Mr. Warner's Hamlet comes to the speech about there being a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, he cannot bring himself to believe than that providence also extends to him. There are no wings in which he can trust. He goes to his death, unreconciled, unabsolved, but also unabsolving; in a word, most princely, most exalted, judging as well as being judged. He says the readiness is all, and for an instant his face quivers. He makes great effort at mastering himself and then, condemned but not now afraid, walks off the stage firmly.
If Hamlet is condemned, God is on trial also.
Clearly, this Hamlet would not be attracted to anything from Roedean or even Heathfield. His cup of tea would have prussic acid in it. Glenda Jackson is given a harsh, bitter, seething-teeth-on-edge recipe for Ophelia, and she loyally cooks it according to the specifications.
Penelope Gilliat, The Observer, August 22, 1965
Glenda Jackson is the first Ophelia I have seen who should play Hamlet. In Peter Hall's production at Stratford, she has all the qualities of a great prince. She makes Ophelia exceptional and electric, with an intelligence that harasses the court and a scornful authority full of Hamlet's own distaste.
David Warner and Glenda Jackson
(...) is that the Prince becomes classless. David Warner is much more like a red-brick undergraduate than a wronged heir apparent.
Hamlet's rule for himself are different: they permit rudeness, and make a virtue of opposing claptrap. He possesses a maddening talent for making the court look hypocritical and overdressed simply by holding his tongue and wearing sea-boots. When David Warner emphasises the phrase about the insolence of office he seems to be speaking for a whole de-bunking generation.
His performance is a lot more touching than tragic. But within this range everything is done with clear truth. He imprints an image of a pale, defiant boy, immensely tall and thin, trying to live with some sort of honest dimension in an Elsinore where his elders pretend that their flat pretenses are enough. His best moments are scared ones: praying softly before he wheels round to face his father's ghost, eyeing Claudius with more fear than accusation during the players' scene.
During the fight, when he gets a graze on his hand, by accident, he holds his arm away and stares at it as though it were already as unrecognisable as Yorick's skull. He has looked like this often in the course of the play, attending whey-faced to an idea that had never struck him before-the prospect not of dying, but of being dead.
W.A. Darlington, August 1965
(...) Mr. Warner's Hamlet, though vigorous and positive is curiously passionless and unpoetic.
And-this-matter-of-factness is not confined to him alone but is characteristic of the production and therefore may be the work of the director.
To sum it up, this is a very much better Hamlet than the last one seen at this theatre; but in view of the extraordinary public interest that has been taken in it, it must rank as something of a disappointment.
W.A. Darlington, December 1965
The most interesting of this year's Stratford-Upon-Avon productions - Peter Hall's staging of Hamlet - has come to the AlDavid Warnerych. There is no sort of doubt of his success.
Even though the days just before Christmas are notoriously slack days in the theatre generally, the House Full boards were out and the audience was enthralled.
Mr. Warner himself has been widely acclaimed, and I believe has an enthusiastic following.
Obviously in a minority about this, I find him interesting but nothing much more. His speaking of the verse causes me no emotion. I see in him nothing princely, and - except in his scene of more than just filial affection with his mother - he brings nothing new to the part.
I much preferred Janet Suzman's Ophelia to the original one (Glenda Jackson). She showed genuine feeling; her predecessor was just a smart deb.
Alan Brien August 1965
(Peter) Hall believes that Hamlet is a modern young radical paralysed by an apathy of the will so deep that commitment to politics, to religion or to life is impossible. It is a tribute to Mr. Hall's masterly control over his players that this viewpoint is reflected in almost every detail of every performance. Unfortunately, in my view, this often requires him to ignore, and sometimes directly contradict, the information provided by Shakespeare in the text.
Here (The Ghost) becomes a giant Sicilian marionette, breathing smoke and rolling around on invisible wheels. Hamlet's dependence on his father is thereby conveyed in striking tableau when even the more-than-six-foot David Warner shrinks to child size in those monstruous arms.
To emphasise Hamlet's youthful, modern contempt for the ruling classes who live by lies and govern by intrigue, Elsinore's Establishmentarians are made unusually tough, steely and ruthless manipulators.
Glenda Jackson quacking deb of an Ophelia, shrill in her aggressions, dangerous in her anger, is a Chelsea-set beatnick who could swap obscenities with Hamlet any night. She seems more likely to smoke pot than go potty, at her father's death.
Surrounded by this hard-faced bunch, even madcap Prince Hal would be likely to start brooding about suicide and suffer a fit of soliloquies. David Warner's Hamlet is a lanky, seedy, overgrown student out of a Russian novel. He wears a bow tie, a long black, belted corduroy jacket, dark trousers and knee-boots, under a variety of tweedy University gowns, in a castle full of fancy dress courtiers in Rembrandt tunics and hats. Even before he starts aping a madman with his shirt out, it is hard to imagine him the glass of fashion and the mould of form.
David Warner's performance is not yet fully-tailored to his role. It fits where it touches. His speaking of the soliloquies has been criticised for monotonous delivery and lack of music in the verse. But Hall's decision to have them spoken directly to the audience as at a public meeting ensures that we listen closely and attentively to the argument. They are appeals for our support and understanding and establish an intense rapport which is rarely obtained by more fluent and sonorous Hamlets. It creates an atmosphere almost like a teach-in.
(Hamlet) appeals to the adolescent at heart. David Warner's Hamlet exaggerates this appeal by suggesting that all the adult skulduggery of the world is really irrelevant. He lives most vividly within his own brain and his action outside are almost deliberately absurd and meaningless. The closet scene with his motherm for example, becomes a sick game played for kicks as he rolls ruttishly on top of her, pleading to hear the lascivious details of her love-making. Many Hamlets have rebuked their Gertrude like a jealous gigolo. This is the first to grill her like a masochistic husband excited by the thought of his own cuckolding.
Hamlet and Gertrude (Elizabeth Spriggs)
He must also be the first to grow in beatific joy as he nears his end, who giggles when the poison circulates and expires smiling at the thought of the muckup he has bequeathed to Fortinbras. When Mr. Warner grows into the part, he may become the favorite Hamlet of all teenagers. It will be a bizarre and perverse portrait-but only peripherally linked ot the Hamlet of Shakespeare.
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Louise Hansen, December 16, 1999