The tremendous merit of Mr. John Gielgud’s long-awaited “Hamlet” (produced last night at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket) is its fidelity. Neither the production nor Mr. Gielgud’s own performance is “beautified”, a vile phrase for a vile thing. In Miss Ruth Keating’s modestly baronial settings the stage is cleared for Shakespeare, and Mr. Gielgud plays his Hamlet with a greater clarity, a deeper meditation, and yet with all his old music. No other actor – for he is a Terry, and virtue inoculates his old stock – can make so just an enchantment of the lines. No other can match the grace and dignity which, out of no great physical equipment, Mr. Gielgud has by long thought added to his stature; unlike some others, this Prince of Denmark (like the Prince of Darkness) is a gentleman.
RICHARD BURTON (Broadway, 1964) Audiences in search of Hamlet had to squint through the bright fog of celebrity that then enshrouded Burton, who was newly married to Elizabeth Taylor. He said that he had been overly influenced by Gielgud when he first portrayed Hamlet at Stratford in the early 1950s, yet it was Gielgud who directed him on this occasion. Presented with minimal scenery and the cast in street clothes, this “Hamlet” was partly inspired by Harley Granville-Barker’s notion that the play was best approached as a “permanent rehearsal,” and Burton’s readings were said to vary radically from night to night. Howard Taubman in The Times was impressed by its “electrical power and sweeping virility,” adding, “I do not recall a Hamlet of such tempestuous manliness.”