Walking back on the damp streets last night, I was trying to hold in my head the images of Paapa Essiedu and Natalie Simpson playing Hamlet and Ophelia, in the cinema performance from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was too cramped and it was too dark to draw during the performance so I had tried to map in my mind their lines, shapes, shadows and highlights as they performed.
I had a brief attempt at drawing in the interval and then went straight to the sketchpad when I got home. I chose deliberately not to look at photographs but draw from memory. I drew in pen and water, reclaiming highlights in acrylic white. I claim no likeness here. Rather these are mere icons to help me hold how they made me feel in the performance.
Paapa Essiedu acted across a great range exhibiting love, tenderness, anger, abuse, misogyny, rage, sarcasm, rebellion and childishness. I saw a highlight across his forehead and the shadows of his jaw, a wide smooth triangle between his brows, deep orbital shadows with light catching the upper eyelids and his face sometime rounded with recent childhood then distorted with anger.
My sketch of Natalie Simpson does her no justice. The features I nailed into my vision were of her in Ophelia’s madness, the expanded hair, the line from brow to her right ear, the thinness of her face and eyes, narrowed then suddenly wide.
Clarence Smith as Claudius, Marcus Griffiths as Laertes and Cyril Nri as Polonius had wonderful expressive features too, but I could not retain their images. The play was set in a West African Denmark and was driven by the rhythms of Sola Akingbola.