I can hear the sigh of relief, for any regular readers, that the vacuum my lack of blog writing has provided is over. I can reveal all the mysteries of the past two months, within reason. In my last blog, I mentioned that Hamlet at the Park Theatre, in which I played Gertrude, was being set in a particular period, which I declined to expose. Most of you know by now, that it was set, in this particular production in the Victorian period of the 1870s.
As a result, I set myself the task of reading AN Wilson’s The Victorians, particularly the chapter on the 1870s. I added Wilkie Collins’ two novels, Man and Wife and The Law and the Lady, because I felt that I had covered enough Dickens in the past. I was enthralled with how Collins’ perspective on women differed so strongly from Dickens. The former seems to value and celebrate the strong woman as a type, whereas, with the greatest respect to Dickens, he has always struck me as a bit of a mysogynist. His women are always unattainably willowy and icy or grotesque caricatures. With the exception of a few, this can be quite tiresome, after a while. Not the case with Collins.
All in all, the research has been interesting. In addition to that for the first month and a half of rehearsals it was mooted that I should be a Gertrude who administered laudanum, which would have been a reasonable enough assumption for the period, had I not had a variety of other issues to manage, such as the relationships that I had with my second husband the King, my son, my role at court, whether we were in Denmark or Victorian England, what the set, props and costumes were actually going to be and of course, lest we forget, the language, poetry, philosophy, meaning and story-telling that William Shakespeare actually intended. So, I’m afraid due to those aspects, I admitted defeat to the idea, and abandoned the laudanum concept completely. If anything, it had hindered my progress.
Sadly, once the costumes were in place, I realise that not many women, unless they were “loose” or courtesans, were allowed to look attractive in the terms that we understand nowadays. For example, there was no colouring of hair, for a Queen, so I had my hair coloured to the closest tone of my natural colour, which in the winter, is a light muddy hue. The parting is in the centre, and polished tightly along the skull, with it up at the back. If you have strong features, it can have a harsh effect on the face. It makes sense of all those grim pictures of Victorian ladies with their hairstyles that I researched on the internet.
In addition, there are corsets, and a bustle at the back, with metal, so that sitting down is no real pleasure, requiring a manipulation of the metal frame of rings to the back or side, before you do so. Might as well not bother to sit at all, I felt. Just stand and stand. While the bustle’s weight pulls into the stomach from behind. Giving one a feeling of inhibited breathing and therefore a nervous type of indigestion. I suspect that is why they all spent so much time passing out. I looked not dissimilar to Queen Victoria, who was not famed for her beauty, and neither, in this role, was I.
It is with huge gratitude that I thank my random luck that I was born in a time when I can wear what I want and be what I wish. No wonder Gertrude was unhappy. She spent her whole life doing what she was told. She married very young to whoever was forced upon her, the first time she cared about anyone in her life, it was with the joy of looking into her baby son’s eyes. In being made a widow, she marries, for the sake of Denmark, the brother, her son’s uncle, who turns out to have murdered his brother to achieve his position. None of this has been her choice. Her beloved son then goes violently mad, accusing her of being part of the conspiracy. All this, and she has one real scene to demonstrate this agony. The rest of the scenes, she stands there and stands there, in silent anger and confusion. Do you understand why I am glad to be rid of her now? I hope so.
However, the cast were made up of some particularly talented actors who managed to pull the production into being a swift, one and three quarter hour production of the Hamlet “highlights”. The Park Theatre were hugely welcoming, giving us each a named water bottle to be filled up from their water filter, so that no actor should go thirsty. I felt that I stretched my acting muscles in an interesting way, in particular, I got over any major stage fright that I had suffered over the last few years. I thank Shakespeare for that. He writes so well, that the words and their poetry become part of your own substance, so that even if you were to walk on stage not knowing what you were going to say, the words come out of your mouth as if he has made you his muse, his conduit. I have had the honour to get to know some very talented and lovely people with whom I plan to remain connected.
So it is with a light heart that I join in the celebrations of the year end. My marvellous agents managed to make enough industry people cover the show to aid my future progress. The brilliant Captain was supportive and cooked late suppers and listened to my moans. My brother brought wonderful friends to the press night and continually bought everyone drinks. My friends, those who could make the short run, also came in their droves, to support my Queenly dame. So, I have no complaints. I have painted my nails. I go blonde tomorrow. Life, in this modern dame’s world, is good.