Jared Harris and I discussed ways of interpreting Hamlet for years before settling into a series of long table-reads of the entire play every few months. Jared’s impulse was for Hamlet to break the fourth wall during the soliloquies and address the audience rather than wondering aloud what he should do. I wanted to stage the play less as an Epic Production and more a series of informal, intimate tableaux, looking behind-the-scenes as an empire’s ambition and chicanery doom the love and friendship of three young idealists—-Hamlet, Ophelia and Laertes.
I added a non-diagetic coda at the opening, with Hamlet and Ophelia meeting for an idyllic tryst. Jared had the brilliant idea of breaking up Hamlet’s monologue to the Player King as he attempts to direct the theatre company. Hamlet’s obsession with control renders him a cliché of the overbearing director, while at the same time illustrating his interior collapse. It was both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Lili as Ophelia and Maggie Low as Gertrude led a great cast with Jared, but the truly mind-blowing element was Jared’s dad, the legendary Richard Harris, agreeing to play Hamlet’s father’s ghost. I’m not aware of any other production featuring real-life father and son in these roles, least of all an acting icon. Richard came to NYC and we filmed him doing all his parts from several angles, then projected them onto a wall of smoke onstage that Hamlet walked through. The production was one of the high points of my creative life and the biggest compliment my work has ever received was watching Richard in the audience from two rows behind him, his shock of white hair nodding in vigorous praise.
During rehearsal I received from Jared (whom I love like a brother), one of the most trenchant criticisms of my directing, which I heed to this day. “Yes, Darling, I see the point, but not everything needs to be underlined in crayon.”