HAMLET: Shakespeare’s work exposes the virtuoso nature of performing and under Nick Hytner’s direction, the company shines as individuals and ensemble players.
Royal National Theatre
South Bank SE1
Monochrome sets have become such a trend in Shakespeare productions that another colour palette might now seem inappropriate.
But how better to convey the chiaroscuro of skulduggery at the court of Denmark than via Vicki Mortimer’s freewheeling set that exposes a cold, bare, hard, newsprint-coloured world of intrigue and betrayal?
Shakespeare’s work exposes the virtuoso nature of performing and under Nick Hytner’s direction, the company shines as individuals and ensemble players.
Some younger cast members need to pace their delivery to avoid lines being swallowed up in the cavernous Olivier auditorium. This was corrected soon enough when they settled down – but meanwhile, the seasoned theatrical lags seized the higher ground while it was there for the taking.
Patrick Malahide made an incisive, insidiously malicious Claudius – the consummate politician who plays the media game to perfection. Claudius is so vile that Hamlet kills him twice – and with Malahide’s subcutaneous reading of the character, perhaps he should have stamped on him as well, just to make sure.
James Laurenson as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father/Player King delivers such a technically brilliant, pitch perfect performance that audiences will realise what they are missing in the strop-and-screech style of acting that has developed from television performances.
David Calder as Polonius should really be locked in his dressing room by the rest of the cast – Calder steals the spotlight naturally. His Polonius is a dignified, but sentimental old fool – a good and faithful servant, but not without a trace of ambition. However, the fire in his loins that produced Ophelia and Laertes has long gone out. We genuinely mourn the demise of the bumbling Polonius – but have the chance to enjoy Calder’s performance again when he pops up as the Gravedigger.
Claire Higgins’s Gertrude is by turns exhilarated and anxious as a woman past her prime who has a second crack at the whip – Higgins brought great physicality to the role and Gertrude’s blowzy breakdown was entirely plausible.
Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet will touch the hearts of everyone.
A highly gifted naturalistic actor, Kinnear has inherited the vocal whimsicalities and physical skills of his late father – the respected comic actor Roy Kinnear. As Hamlet progresses on his emotional journey, Kinnear offers us a seamless and brilliant reading of the character.
Sanity remains the core element of his emotional path, but the twists and turns of betrayal fuel his anger and bitterness – he is mad in both senses, with a thorn in each side, but with his reasoning intact.
But Kinnear’s Hamlet is not just a cool guy: thanks to Claudius, he is a displaced prince as well as a displaced son. But his sanity is what keeps us connected to the character – the fact that he is not mad beyond reason is this Hamlet’s tragedy. To borrow from Timothy Leary, your mum and uncle, they f--- you up.
Ruth Negga’s engaging Ophelia is also a cool girl – but it is a shame her breakdown relies so much on attitude and denies her the chance to show real emotion.
As a result, there is no contrast between Ophelia and Hamlet’s punchy, confrontational emotions – and the too frequent use of a dance track to emphasise how cool these kids are begins to seem contrived. This may be an Ophelia for a younger generation, but on this occasion we needed to hear the heart break.
Alex Lanipekun is an accomplished and handsome Laertes – but deserves a little more direction when the news of Ophelia’s death is broken by Gertrude. It is a rare occurrence in the production when the interpretation does not quite serve Shakespeare’s lyrical passages and the cast seems caught between a pastoral idyll and a hard place. A slightly more unhinged or cloyingly maternal Gertrude might have given Laertes every reason to swallow his grief and back off.
Rosencrantz (Ferdinand Kingsley) and Guildenstern (Prasanna Puwanarajah) are a couple of booted and suited young men on the make, but without the ‘evil twin’ element usually afforded the roles. However, these days, just looking like an estate agent might be sufficient.
Horatio (Giles Terera) is a tender and true friend to Hamlet – Terera gives a sensitive and thoughtful performance.
The graceful supporting cast did not put a foot wrong.
It wasn’t quite a standing ovation – on this preview night the audience was certainly willing, but perhaps a little shy.
You’ll be on your feet, though, guaranteed.
Hamlet runs at the Royal National Theatre from 7 October – 9 January, 2011