I have a little confession to make – the Relish household is experiencing a massive girl crush at the moment that we’re quite struggling to overcome.
That girl crush is the ruddy gorgeous Maxine Peake, whose career on the small screen I have been mesmerized by over the past couple of years. Although the other half’s particularly fave is her role as Grace Middleton in grim, Peak District drama The Village (even more so since it’s filmed near us) I currently carry a personal torch for the tough, smart Martha Costello QC in Silk.
From the seedy Manchester streets in Shameless to the theatrical brilliance that has formed the sturdy backbone of her career, she’s our Northern Socialist sweetheart and I was very honoured, as a birthday treat, to go and see the much anticipated performance of Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre last month. Despite the obvious reasons to go and enjoy a hearty chunk of the ultimate Shakesperian tragedy, this particular offering courtesy of director Sarah Frankcom has been the talk of town, rapidly selling out and forcing the company to extend the run to meet demand.
Supported by a cast of seasoned actors who had a strong grasp on each and every line, the anger and conviction of Peake’s performance shone out all the way into the cheap seats. The power with which she delivered Hamlet’s very first speech sent shivers down my spine:
Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
Act I, Scene II
Although so croaky as to be almost indecipherable at times, this quirkiness of delivery, perhaps because we know the tale so well, almost enhanced rather than spoilt the performance for me, a voice cracked with emotion in this instance being preferable to a straight-laced Hamlet. With Horatio, the King and Ophelia all convincing enough to stand up to any celebrity appeal Peake may have attracted, this was a fresh yet satisfyingly traditional interpretation. Just how do they remember all those lines?
For Shakespeare rookies such as ourselves this was truly an education (although a rather tiring one after three hours of Elizabethan English and a full day at work!) and I’d persuade any of you out there who may not necessarily heft up one of the Bard’s plays on your commute into work to at least go and see it, particularly a production with rave reviews such as this one. You won’t look back and, let’s face this, these works were born to be performed, with audiences both crying out and chuckling along since the times of Good Queen Bess
Maxine Peake is back where she started her acting career at the Exchange Theatre, now in the position of Associate Artist. I feel privileged to have this beautiful, unique building on my doorstep and can’t wait to see what it, and she, bring to the table next.