John Gielgud


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In April 1930 Gielgud finished the season playing Hamlet. Williams's production used the complete text of the play. This was regarded as a radical innovation; extensive cuts had been customary for earlier productions. A running time of nearly five hours did not dampen the enthusiasm of the public, the critics or the acting profession. Sybil Thorndike said, "I never hoped to see Hamlet played as in one's dreams . . . I've had an evening of being swept right off my feet into another life – far more real than the life I live in, and moved, moved beyond words. " The production gained such a reputation that the Old Vic began to attract large numbers of West End theatregoers. Demand was so great that the cast moved to the Queen's Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, where Williams staged the piece with the text discreetly shortened. The effect of the cuts was to give the title role even more prominence. Gielgud's Hamlet was richly praised by the critics. Ivor Brown called it "a tremendous performance . . . the best Hamlet of [my] experience". James Agate wrote, "I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that it is the high water-mark of English Shakespearean acting of our time. "