Top positive review
10 people found this helpful
Blows your socks off!
on 24 May 2014
This audio has been well worth the money spent and the struggle to download and I shall be recommending it to friends and family. Well done, you guys, (Hartley, Hewson and Armitage), for writing and voicing such a splendid book!
The authors retell a well-known story and make it fresh and exciting once more. There are a handful of new characters that help to forward the plot and who give insights into the action and the politics of the original play (Young Yorick and Gregor, the Scottish mercenary); they invent very little that is new and what they do, such as the events surrounding Hamlet's birth and what happens to Ophelia, just make for a visceral tension and interest.
Out of all the characters, I loved to hate Polonius and I really warmed to Claudius, the 'wicked uncle', where the authors have made Polonius nastier and Claudius nicer: just some tweaks here and there, but these make all the difference to how we see them. Although Shakespeare doesn't give Claudius a totally bad press, in this book, I was touched and moved by his love for Gertrude and for the child, Hamlet, who was as a son to him; he is a good man who has got himself into a mess, rather like Macbeth, who wades so far into a sea of blood that there is no turning back. There are some interesting asides about Macbeth, especially at the end, not to mention two Scottish characters, beautifully voiced by Armitage who does an amazing range of accents and tones.
Hamlet is presented as being schizophrenic/bipolar and the listener is invited to ponder on the reality of his friend, Young Yorick. To invent a new character like this for Hamlet to interact with is a novel and interesting way to replace Hamlet's soliloquies and the authors have done brilliantly with this idea making Yorick an entertaining and important part of the book. Armitage's problem as Hamlet is to give him different voices for when he is manic, for when he is depressive and for when he is normal - different, but the same. He does this really well and Hamlet's last words - "The rest is silence" - are said wonderfully and made me want to cry.
The voices of the women, Ophelia and Gertrude, always a problem for male readers, are well done, especially for a man with a deep voice. And I loved the way that every character was given individual care and attention, such as one of the pirates who speaks as though he is missing his two front teeth, LOL! There was a great pirate captain too.
The pirate episode is is a good example of the way the authors plug the gaps in the stage play whilst staying - I must assure any purists - very close to the original in so many other ways. They make a whole thrilling episode out of the brief mention in the play and then weave the pirates cleverly into the plot. We also get to visit the court of Elizabeth I (again, totally justified), see much more into the plots and politics of the invading Fortinbras, rather than having some strange character appear right at the end, and we also get some insight into the travelling band of players who are named as Burbage and Kemp, two famous actors who were part of Shakespeare's Company. The delineation and conversations of these two made me really laugh, with Burbage sounding like Sir Donald Wolfit who was a very pompous and world-weary ac-tor.
The book is well-written and gripping whether you are into Shakespeare or not. If you know the play really well, you will get pleasure from some of the more subtle nods and winks to the text, just like it's fun to get the 'in' jokes of Terry Pratchett; if you only know it a bit, then you will get pleasure from seeing how they deal with the original plot and characters; and if you don't know it at all, you will enjoy it as an exciting and intriguing story which will enlighten you and help you to understand the play if you ever see it after listening to the audio. And, everyone will enjoy Armitage's performance and voice. It was, somehow, a very intimate performance and so well done that it has left me in awe of his versatility.
What a team these three have made! They will doubtless win some new fans both for Hamlet and for Shakespeare.