When it comes to Shakespeare people tend to adopt one of two views. On one side people argue that we need to make it relevant and accessible and therefore adjust interpretations accordingly. On the other side of the argument are the people who say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott does the impossible. It pleases both.
This is the performance of Scott’s career there is no doubt. He is extraordinary, possibly the finest Hamlet I have ever seen. His Hamlet is charismatic and wild but above all crystal clear. He caters to those who know nothing of the famous story as well as the seasoned Shakespearean audience. Never have I seen an audience laugh so hard at the tragic play, and with no alterations to the text or the plays meaning, he discovers and shares with the audience so much of the play I had never noticed. Your heart aches for the man who has made you laugh and when he wants to, he can hold the audience in silence with ease. We were in the palm of his hand as he gently guided us willingly through this incredible three and a half hours of theatre. It was with out a doubt, one of the most beautiful and extraordinary performances I have ever seen.
The success of the show however, does not lie solely with Scott. Icke has assembled a superb cast of actors, who like Scott, have found so much in this famous play we have never seen before. Peter Wright’s Polonius is hysterical and kind, his wonderful interpretation allowed me to be irritated by him with Hamlet and yet still weep for him with Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Laertes (Luke Thompson). While the text is complex, he is as clear as day, and consistently one of my favourite performances in the play. Brown Findlay’s Ophelia is beautiful and innovative and Thompson’s Laertes shows perfectly the journey of a young man once a bachelor free from responsibility having the world thrust upon his shoulders. They both bring a wonderful youth to the piece which keeps it energised and moving throughout. Not once did I feel the play dragging (not an easy feat when the show is three and half hours long, even with the two intervals) and I think that Brown Findlay and Thompson have a lot to do with that as does Joshua Higgott’s Horatio. His relationship with Hamlet is strong and touching, yet while so many productions us Horatio as a tool for exposition or support for Hamlet’s story, Higgott’s performance is a stand out.
Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude is intelligent and subtle. While she uses the text brilliantly, there is no doubt, her presence on stage is what is most astonishing. I found myself drawn to her regardless of the action on stage, not pulling focus but inviting us to see her reaction to events. She plays Gertrude not as a victim or a fool, but as a three dimensional living, breathing woman, with faults but a good heart. It was refreshing to see this, as so often Gertrude is the character that can be the downfall of the show, but Stevenson is fantastic.
This all takes place of course on Hildegard Bechtler’s innovative and exciting set. Her use of simplicity in the actual furniture matched with a cleverly changing screen at the back and cameras and video screens created an immersive and exciting experience and yet avoided being gimmicky, as it perfectly fit with Icke’s interpretation.
I cannot encourage you enough to go see this show. Scott’s performance alone is enough and yet there are hundreds of other reasons alongside this. Perhaps the greatest Shakespearean piece I have ever seen, most definitely the greatest interpretation of Hamlet.
Reviewed by Kara Taylor Alberts (@karaalberts)
Photo: Manuel Harlan