I feel I need to preface this blog by stating that Hamlet is my favourite of all of Shakespeare’s plays, so there may be some form of bias towards this review but this fact also makes me pick apart every facet of any production I see on this particular text. There is something about Hamlet that calls out to our very being and philosophical perceptions on life, which is perhaps why this ouevre of Shakespeare’s has stood the very test of time and is still being performed in London over 400 years after its birth.
Since being introduced to Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I’ve watched a medley of established performers tackle the role of the self-contemplating Prince: David Tennant, Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson, Sir Laurence Olivier and most recently the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch.
In this production, the Danish Prince is portrayed by Andrew Scott who rose to fame playing the villainous, maniacal James Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock. Ironically, Cumberbatch (who plays the lead of the same show) only recently took on Hamlet two years before. So how did Scott compare to the greats that have come before him?
The answer to this question, much like the ‘To be or not to be?’ question Hamlet himself poses, is long and complicated. No two performances are the same as no two actors or directors stage the same production of the Bard’s text. The only way I can explain Robert Icke’s vision of the Prince is that it’s the closest thing to realism as you can get with a revenge tale featuring a ghost and multiple deaths (spoilers!).
Scott’s Hamlet is played straight and to the point. There’s no over the top acting (save some childish foot-stamping tantrums to feign madness) or boastful projection in his soliloquies. This Hamlet is shown as if he were a man of today; imagine how you would cope if your Father died of mysterious circumstances, your Mother married your Uncle some two months after the funeral and you return home to face this land of turmoil and deceit. This is the situation Scott’s Hamlet finds himself in and he captivates the stage and commands the audience’s attention every single syllable he utters.
Hamlet, unlike Shakespeare’s other tragic heroes, Macbeth, Lear or even Romeo, is a man of whom more theatergoers can connect with. Who doesn’t sometimes question their existence, the futility of life and that overarching, daunting, simple question: Why?
Scott is far from the psychotic Moriarty here. As Polonius states “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it”.
The thing I love about Shakespeare the most is that I can go to the theatre and see a play I’ve seen multiple times and still be offered a new way to read a line or a new thought in which to say a line. Scott does this with ease. My teacher friend turned to me during the interval (of which there are two) and exclaimed how she was sure she could have brought her class of 14-15 year old Essex students to the performance and they would have actually understood what was happening.
Making Shakespeare accessible to a changing modern audience is the main hurdle that theatre makers have to leap over and I personally feel this performance does so. Whether it be the mix of lighting by Natasha Chivers, the sound by Tom Gibbons or the multiple video screens and their designs by Tal Yarden, the audience believe that they are watching something that is happening in today’s (deceitfully-observed) world.
In an age where we are constantly questioning being monitored, watching wars rage overseas or even feel that we are losing connections within the dimensions of our families, this production of Hamlet aims to bring them to the surface and embody them in the Tragic Shakespearean Hero.
Hamlet is not a production without its relationships however and this production had the likes of Jessica Brown Findlay as the tragic Ophelia, Derbhle Crotty as Hamlet’s Mother Gertrude, David Rintoul as Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost, Angus Wright as the villainous Claudius, Peter Wight as the long-winded Polonius, Luke Thompson as the vengeful Laertes, Joshua Higgott as best friend Horatio and the duo of Madeline Appiah and Calum Finlay as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Icke chose his cast well in order to shape each character’s particular connection with the tragic hero of the story. Whether it be the interesting change of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be a couple (with a hint that Hamlet and Guildenstern were once an item), the honest and playful puppy love between Ophelia and Hamlet or the blind devotion that Horatio shows Hamlet every time they are on stage together, each relationship offered a thought provoking dynamic to the production.
As Polonius, Wight stole each scene he was in and offered some comedic relief to the tension that was built throughout Hamlet’s hidden inability to act on his father’s murder.
However, it was Findlay in whom we found perhaps the most heartbreak as we witness Ophelia’s mental state slowly decay as she experiences the loss of her father, the sudden departure of her brother, Laertes and Hamlet’s exile from Denmark. The mad vicious, violent movements she performed whilst confined to her wheelchair resonated throughout the theatre. Every hit a stab of raw emotion.
Now I could go on for days about this play, for instance how Laertes was shown to be the polar opposite of Hamlet or how Scott played the desperation to see his mother and father hold hands and be a family once more was something I’d never considered being shown. However, if I did that, you’d all switch off and need two intervals just to finish this blog! So I’ll summarise it here.
If you feel you are up for a solid amount of Shakespeare then book a ticket, just be sure to book one that is within clear sight and sound of the stage as where I was sitting the projection of voices was very soft and my hearing took much longer to adjust than normal. I realise that Shakespeare isn’t for everyone but if you want to take a chance on a production that feels real, isn’t too shouty, boastful or “Shakespearean” in its acting and set design, then I feel this is the production for you.
Stin’s Final Thoughts: I’d like to see an episode of ‘Sherlock’ where Sherlock and Moriarty go head to head in reciting lines from Hamlet, if only to see who could do it better. I’d pay to see that.
Hamlet is now playing at The Harold Pinter Theatre, London until the 2nd September. A certain amount of tickets are put aside for Under 30’s as part of the companies 30 Under 30 campaign. Ring the box office or click on the link below for more information.