(Nicholas de Jongh's article appeared in the Independent, 4/16.)
Imagine that the opening night audience for John Gielgud's first sensational Hamlet in 1930 at the Old Vic were transported to 1775 and found themselves watching the 56-year-old David Garrick giving London his famous, and by then all-too familiar, Prince of Denmark. Garrick had after all been playing the role for more than three decades.
Star Shakespearian of the 18th and 19th century were revered for their "points" – particular, striking pieces of theatrical business that audiences came to adore. True to this tradition, one of Garrick's great "points" in Hamlet was achieved by way of the mechanical wig on his head which took a starring role of its own. As soon as it heard the words "Look, my lord, it comes!" that preceded the arrival of Hamlet's ghostly father, a shock, a pretty big shock, of Garrick's hair, would duly rise in horror.
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