Briefly on Sir Patrick Stewart…

January 1, 2010

Patrick Stewart in "Macbeth"

This list of British New Year Honours has been published, and Yorkshireman Patrick Stewart has been awarded for his services to drama. Perhaps best known for his (fantastic) work on television’s Star Trek: the Next Generation, the subsequent movies that utilized this cast, and the X-Men series, Stewart is also an accomplished stage and voiceover actor. More recently, Stewart rejoined the Royal Shakespeare Company to perform alongside David Tenant (and his understudy, Edward Bennett) in Hamlet, playing both Old Hamlet and Claudius to rave reviews and an Olivier Award. [Apparently, this production was filmed and aired on the BBC on December 26th.] Sir Patrick can also be heard in four episodes of Family Guy and (amazingly) in the Gargoyles series that I so enjoyed as a child.

I saw Stewart in Hamlet at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2008. Previous to this, I also attended his lauded performance in Macbeth at New York’s Lyceum Theatre earlier that year, which was Tony Award nominated. And, while I admit that he has a commanding stage presence and a lovely deep voice, Stewart failed both times to impress this audience member. For being a 16 year member of the RSC during his younger days, I expected much more. He certainly is a fan of the thoughtful pause a la Pinter, and you can see that he really dissects what he is about to say. But, by god, it’s dull to watch. You feel as though he is reading lines from his script, never erring from his original interpretation, relying entirely on the built-in excitement of the audience for a big screen actor. The slow speeches all sound like “I’m Patrick Stewart. Yes, I am that good. Watch me do Shakespeare to prove it.” Nothing is developed.

But he deserves it. He has done well for the realm. But more so, 69 years old and can still pull 31 year olds, defending it with I can’t meet people my own age. That defense itself deserves a knighthood.

I must also offer congratulations to the great Nicholas Hytner, the highly successful artistic director of the National Theatre. His efforts have changed (and very much improved) British theatre these past several years.

Also the Commanders of the British Empire must be paid respect: Phyllida Lloyd (of Mamma Mia! fame, but preferably a Mary Stuart reputation) and Margaret Tyzack (who survived Phedre better than many of the other actors in my own review).

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