Hamlet – Articles and Reviews – 13
Leslie Howard’s Hamlet – Articles and Reviews
Howard’s Style of ‘Hamlet’ Nets Him Much Praise
by Alice Pardoe West
Much has been said of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in fact, so much that it is difficult to find anything really new to say about it. But when we say Leslie Howard in “Hamlet,” that is another thing. And Ogdenites will have the opportunity of seeing Mr. Howard in this favorite role at the Orpheum theatre February 1.
Many artists have played this drama of various interpretations and each seems to create a different Hamlet, which is perhaps one reason why the play has remained popular so long.
Mr. Howard has tried to interpret “Hamlet” in a way that he thinks Shakespeare would have done, had he written it for a modern audience, without injuring the delicate architecture of this master’s work. As it is written it plays five hours. Mr. Howard has eliminated much of the repetition that is found in Shakespeare’s works and has divided the play into three acts, taking a little over two-and-a-half hours to present it.
Particular pains have been taken in the elaborate settings which Mr. Howard believes is most essential in the portrayal of this production. Critics praise his interpretation of “Hamlet” highly and his road tour thus far has been received most enthusiastically.
One cannot see Leslie Howard without being impressed with his gentle refinement and sincerity. He has a certain wistfulness about his personality that makes him seem quite boyish and a peculiar hesitancy in his decisions that gives him the appearance of being afraid to commit himself. He is very enthused over doing “Hamlet” and thinks that it will prove to be his favorite role.
Mr. Howard’s career has been a colorful one. He is of English birth and has a lovely home in Surrey, England, of which he is very fond. He made his first appearance on the New York stage in the role of Sir Calverton Shipley, in “Just Suppose.” This was in 1920. He then played juvenile light comedy roles (he has a keen sense of humor and appreciation for comedy). His first serious role was in “Outward Bound” after which he was engaged by Katharine Cornell to play Sir Napier Harpenden in “The Green Hat.”
His First Success
Mr. Howard’s first tremendous success in New York, the one that put him in the star class–was as Andre Sallicel in “Her Cardboard Lover,” a vehicle designed for starring Jeanne Eagels, who made “Rain” famous. In fact, Mr. Howard stole the show. Incidentally, something happened on the opening night of the performance that Mr. Howard has never forgotten. His wife presented him with a gold coin of the British realm on a gold chain to wear around his neck for luck. “Wear this,” she said, “and you will never want for anything.” He woke the next morning to find himself famous and since then he has worn it night and day around his neck next to his skin. It seems to be his only superstition.
Since this success Mr. Howard has played many roles. “Berkeley Square,” Galsworthy’s “Escape,” Robert E. Sherwood’s “Petrified Forest” and Philip Barry’s “The Animal Kingdom,” are some of Mr. Howard’s favorite plays that he has done.
He is a very capable director and producer, as well as an actor. “Hamlet” is his production, and he has surrounded himself with a wonderful cast, including Pamela Stanley as Ophelia, who has a long record of successes to her name, with the original production of “Victoria Regina,” the play in which Helen Hayes has starred for the past two seasons. Other members of the cast are equally renowned.
The Movies Are Giving Matinee Idols Back To The Theater
by Florence Fisher Parry
The movies are revitalizing the theater. They are giving it back its GALLERY. And when the gallery gods return, the stage is returned to us in all its old-time glamour.
What has done this, of course, has been the return of some of our top movie stars to the theater, if only for a little while. This last week in Pittsburgh there occurred a perfect demonstration of this. Leslie Howard was here on a “personal visit,” with his affluent production of Hamlet; and scarcely was the engagement announced until orders poured in, with almost frenzied petitions for seats in the upper two balconies.
The first balcony was a quick sell-out for the week; the second balcony, too; popular priced seats were at a premium. The long queue that formed in the lobby was made up of youths, for the most part, in quest of–not glamour only; not even Shakespeare (although we should like to think so) but in tribute to a PERSONALITY; a star who, had he remained on the stage and never entered pictures, would have been known to comparatively few of them; but who, in the years he has been identified with the best of motion pictures, had built for himself an adoring public.
True, there were other factors entering in to the magnificent attendance accorded him. His production of Hamlet was known to be a handsome one, beautifully upholstered and supported by a distinguished cast. Much interest, interest amounting even to curiosity, had been excited by the spirited Gielgud-Howard controversy; and many wanted to see for themselves how good or how bad Leslie Howard was in the most challenging role in all drama. Too, the natural interest in Shakespeare and his most notable play, brought students and scholars to pay their homage to transcendent English and incomparable drama.
But the supreme claim to this Hamlet’s popularity must, in all fair, be acknowledged to be Leslie Howard’s own personal following, a following whose numbers have been greatly swollen by the rank and file of MOVIEgoers.
At the end of the play, a further demonstration of this PERSONAL devotion was evident. Curtain after curtain call pulled up the curtain time after time. The audience was insatiable. Finally its hero succumbed to persuasion of bravo and cheers, and stepped forth, completely out of Hamlet’s character, completely in his own, to make a curtain speech.
A Good Augur
To me, this was the most heartening experience I have had in the theater for 10 years. For the first time in a decade I felt that the theater was ALIVE! Not just in New York, where it has always thrived, more or less, with its special theater-geared audiences; but far more important, in the COUNTRY at large. The ROAD, in all its glory, has stepped back into its old place again!
In short, we had returned to that most vital thing in the theater; the thing that has always given it its very life: GLAMOUR. The spell of a beloved PERSON. We used to have it, in the days of Maude Adams and Julia Marlowe and Ethel Barrymore. We had it in the days of Otis Skinner and John Barrymore and James K. Hackett. But in this generation (this generation, I mean, that leaned over the balconies of the Nixon this last week) we have had only occasional manifestations of it.
Katharine Cornell, of the legitimate stage, evokes a flicker of it, but I can think of no other actor or actress who does. It is Glamour. And Glamour, to thrive, must have in it a certain innocent, unworldly quality. A credulity, an idolatry, that has nothing to do with critical evaluations. Many actors of today claim our admiration; have great following; but they do not create Glamour.
The theater audience has matured, grown sophisticated, KNOW TOO MUCH. A Bernhardt, a Maude Adams, even an Edwin Booth, could not now command that curiously innocent IDOLATRY which lifted them to the stature of god in their day.
But something wonderful is happening to the theater. The MOVIE FANS, still innocent, still credulous, still possessed of an infinite capacity for ADORATION, are beginning to follow their gods and goddesses into the theater. They have followed Helen Hayes; and “Victoria Regina,” a “special” kind of play under normal theater conditions, has become a great popular success. They have followed Margaret Sullavan, Tallulah Bankhead, Mary Boland, Walter Huston, Paul Muni–the list lengthens. The plays in which the movie fans’ favorites appear, thrive when they would not have thrived without them.
In the case of Leslie Howard, is New York engagement was disastrous. It came upon the heels of a mighty personal triumph for John Gielgud, whose Hamlet pulled the audience from their seats with the shock, the fire, the brilliance of its impact. These two actors played before typical NEW YORK THEATER AUDIENCES, with New York theater standards of appraisal. They were judged by performance values alone; and in comparison with the Hamlet these audiences had just seen delivered by Mr. Gielgud, Mr. Howard’s suffered.
It went on tour. It played in the Middle West. Its box-office success on the road has been overwhelming. Everywhere, Mr. Howard has played to capacity balconies. The popular priced seats were grabbed up long before he appeared in the city. The orchestra, always substantially patronized by theatergoers, also showed a record sale. At every performance the production and Mr. Howard’s own performance have met with wild acclaim.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
One thing. The audiences out of New York, deprived for years of theaterfare, their theaters turned into movie houses, starved for a real flesh-and-blood comedy of actor, have been most responsive, true, to the road tours of New York successes.
But balconies have remained but sparsely filled, even so, EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF PLAYS STARRING OR FEATURING MOVIE STARS. Then the balconies at once overflow with fans. The only exception has been Katharine Cornell, and as I said before, she is the only “glamour” star of the theater still left to us.
In the case of Leslie Howard, the inference is absolute: His orchestra audience is made up largely of those who have been in the habit of going to the theater, either in their own city or on frequent visits to New York. But his BALCONY audiences, the audiences who have swollen the receipts of Hamlet to exciting records, are made up of Leslie Howard fans who know him as a motion picture star.
Hamlet Long in Its Making
It was no sudden fancy that led Leslie Howard to invest considerable of his life’s savings in a stage presentation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” He had cherished the ambition for years.
But when it was announced that he would portray the ardent young lover in the screen version of “Romeo and Juliet,” those of his friends and admirers who had been looking forward to his doing “Hamlet,” for he made such an announcement years ago, wrote him from all over the world expressing their disappointment that he had seemingly relinquished his plans.
This was not the case. All the while that he was engaged in the filming of “Romeo and Juliet,” he had capable assistants at work on the “Hamlet,” which he will bring to the Orpheum theatre Monday evening February 1st.
And these assistants were assigned no easy task.
To begin with, Mr. Howard wanted a new adaptatio of the text, one that would permit the inclusion of several scenes rarely played–and still an adaptation which would allow the audience to leave the theatre at a normal hour. To Shuyler Watts, a Yale scholar, was entrusted the task of editing and arranging the play, with the result that certain scenes of great value to the drama, and are rarely done, have been restored.
In the Watts’ adaptation, for instance, more of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scenes have been included. Their characters now emerge, as Shakespeare probably conceived them, as two men deeply engulfed in court intrigue, who represent a genuine menace to the safety of the rightful heir to the Danish throne, and who ran true to what Hamlet himself said of them–“My two school fellows, whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d.”
Many Years Elapse
In the matter of time, Mr. Howard admits freely that years actually elapsed before his plans came to a culmination. As to the expense involved, he remains silent: but well-informed men of the theatre declare it is the costliest as well as most pretentious production of “Hamlet” yet seen on the American stage. It will be brought to Ogden in its entirety at the Orpheum theatre, Monday evening.
THE HOWARD HAMLET
Seeing Leslie Howard’s “Hamlet,” it gradually dawns on one that somebody is crazy—and that it isn’t Mr. Howard.
Perhaps New York critics were determined to be nasty. Perhaps Mr. Howard was not himself in Gotham. Be that as it may, the fact remains that at the Curran, aided by a splendid cast and excellent settings, he offers a convincing and moving portrait, so cleverly done that one comes away still pondering the sanity of the hero of the greatest of Shakespearean tragedies.
Doubt as to the author’s meaning has too often led actors to adopt arbitrary interpretations of Hamlet’s character without realizing that the way to play him is simply to play him. That he has perceived this, and acted accordingly is only one of the many things for which Mr. Howard deserves praise.
There is no striving after hidden meanings in his Hamlet, no worrying about sophistries of interpretation. The aim has been to make him a human being, and that aim has been completely achieved.
Where Hamlet is to be overacted, Mr. Howard overacts him; where he is to be a rational, bitter humorist, Mr. Howard makes him such, with the consequence that while his portrait is neither unified nor completely consistent throughout, it nevertheless shows in every word and gesture a close adherence to the playwright’s intention. It is excellent Shakespeare and very good Howard, and as such makes for a very pleasant evening in the theater.
Aubrey Mather’s Polonius, pompous, fussy, absent-minded, still retains enough basic intelligence to make his advice to Laertes seem perfectly natural.
Pamela Stanley’s Ophelia gets progressively better, rising through the flightiness of the early scenes to the tense horror of the mad-scene, and leaving an unforgettable impression.
Wilfrid Walter makes an impressive Claudius but his Queen is a disappointment. Mary Servoss is an accomplished actress, as those who saw her in “Tobacco Road” can attest, but she is not Queen Gertrude. She should keep to parts more suited to her curiously harsh voice.
Special praise must go to Stewart Chaney for the settings, which are so real that one can almost feel the texture of the stone. Costumes are brilliant, with Hamlet changing his traditional black to red and then to white before the last curtain falls.
Take it all and all, to misquote the play a trifle, we shall not soon again look on the like of Mr. Howard’s “Hamlet.”
Rich, stately, and moving, it is one of the best production ever to hit the City.
Nuts, if we may say so, to New York.