September 2007 Scotland on Sunday
HAMLET is a play with a reputation for messing with the lead actor's head. When Daniel Day-Lewis starred as the morose student driven to distraction by his father's death and his mother's marriage to his uncle, he collapsed on stage, believing he had seen his own father in the ghost scene. He has not been seen in a theatre since.
Tom McGovern, who played the part at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum in 1995, said his life was never the same from the day he was asked to do it. "I just couldn't get him out of my head," he said at the end of the run. "I think it's about as close as I ever got to being another person. My dreams were phenomenal prior to it, during it, and after."
If David Tennant and Jude Law do not want to be similarly freaked out when they tackle the role in the coming months at the RSC and London's Donmar Warehouse respectively, they'd do well to learn from Scotland's latest Hamlet, Andy Clark. The Blairgowrie actor, one of the most exciting young talents on the Scottish stage, is approaching his Hamlet at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow in a way that is entirely level-headed.
He is losing no sleep over the gargantuan part, nor is he troubled by personal parallels. "When my mum first started seeing my dad, they split up for a while when they were 17 and she did go out for my uncle for a couple of weeks," he laughs. "That's the nearest I can get!"
That, we agree in a rehearsal break, would be the comedy Hamlet. But even with more troubled a background, Clark would not feel he had to draw on his private life to give depth to his stage persona. He doesn't hold with the Method school of emotional immersion, preferring David Mamet's credo that "great drama is not the performance of deeds with great emotion, but the performance of great deeds with no emotion whatever". It means he's tackling Hamlet – the play that put the Citizens' Theatre on the map in 1970 in a provocative all-male production starring David Hayman – in a way that won't allow him to be overwhelmed by it.
"I can't let myself be engulfed by it or scared by it," says Clark, who'll be using his native Perthshire accent in Guy Hollands' period production. "The play is there to be acted. I'm only interested in what will help me perform the play. Initially when I got the part, I thought, 'Oh, my God.' But once I got my teeth into it, I realised it's going to be what it's going to be."
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In one respect, for Clark to be cast as Hamlet is as exciting as it is timely. Over the past seven years, his presence in a cast has become a benchmark of quality, whether he is doing a spot-on imitation of Sid James in the Carry On tribute, Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick or walking through the clothes rails of Debenhams in Grid Iron's site-specific Fringe hit The Devil's Larder. In another respect, however, the casting comes as a surprise. Clark has, after all, always been less the leading light than the company man.
At just 32, he has done stints with no less than three Scottish acting ensembles. In 2000 his career was kick-started when he was taken on as a graduate trainee by the permanent ensemble of Dundee Rep, a position he held onto for three years until the departure of artistic director Hamish Glen. In 2004 he was one of the award-winning "Little Bit of Ruff" ensemble at the Citz, appearing with a tight-knit team of actors in a series of studio performances including an adaptation of Vernon God Little. Then last year, he was part of the inaugural National Theatre of Scotland Ensemble, taking key roles in Strindberg's Miss Julie (in a version by Zinnie Harris re-titled Julie) and David Greig's hilarious children's show Gobbo.
True to form, even though he has landed the lead role in the world's most famous play, Clark is not letting Hamlet go to his head. "All casts should be ensemble," he says. "I don't subscribe to the idea of leading roles. Actors always ask you if you're playing the lead, but I don't think about it like that – which drives my agent daft."
He has been obsessed by the theatre ever since he saw a production of George's Marvellous Medicine at Dundee Rep in 1990, realising too late that it clashed with the Scotland-Sweden world cup match. He is also a pragmatist and, in those rare occasions when this busiest of actors has been out of work, he has turned his hand to labouring on a friend's farm in Blairgowrie. It is this common-sense approach to the job that has allowed him to take on such a workload in the last few years.
As well as playing multiple roles in Andrea Hart's adaptation of Vernon God Little in 2004, for example, he took on half a dozen characters in a different adaptation of DBC Pierre's comic novel at London's Young Vic earlier this year. Only Black Watch star Brian Ferguson can match him for the number of appearances with the National Theatre of Scotland (he did the inaugural Home in Dundee and Grid Iron's Roam at Edinburgh Airport as well as Julie and Gobbo) and, after Hamlet, he'll be taking on several parts in a Tron/Glasgay adaptation of Louise Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die. Then he'll be in Peter Pan at the Citz.
"Hamlet is huge but it's pretty well mapped out in my head," he says. "I've got a real good feel for the production, I can sense it and it's going to look really good. Guy is bringing out the sense of Denmark being in a state of decay with a crumbling regime. It means Hamlet can let himself go and I don't need to comb my hair too much."
Hamlet, Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, September 21-October 13
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