“Oh God, not another Hamlet” was my honest initial reaction on hearing about the forthcoming Almeida production, directed by Robert Icke and starring Andrew Scott, most famous for his supremely irritating Moriarty in Sherlock. But I booked anyway, because my ticket was only £10 and I can’t seem to avoid productions of Hamlet. Just as well, as it turned out, because this was the most memorable and affecting Hamlet I’ve seen since Michael Sheen’s turn at the Young Vic, which I loved so much it inspired me to start blogging about theatre.
This is a modern, intimate Hamlet, with wide panes of glass, modern Scandi-style furniture that looks like it’s come straight from IKEA, and effective use of video, both security cameras and hand-held video cameras which emphasise Denmark as a surveillance state. Icke’s directorial choices largely make the play the unique experience that it is, even if you’re intimately acquainted with the play. The naturalistic speech delivery helps every line to sound fresh, while the wordless interactions between the characters have been developed to deepen their relationships: this is particularly apparent with Hamlet and Ophelia, while Hamlet’s embrace of his ghostly father is both shocking and tender. The relationships between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes is a close familial one, Ophelia’s madness the product of genuine grief for a beloved father.
Andrew Scott is a revelation in the title role: quietly spoken, intensely vulnerable and utterly compelling. He is matched by the majority of the cast around him: Juliet Stevenson is a superb Gertrude, a character who, in love with Claudius for most of the play, only realises his true nature towards the end. Peter Wight’s Polonius is an amusing take on the character, while Jessica Brown-Findlay’s Ophelia is superbly judged and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are further fleshed out. Only Angus Wright’s Claudius seems underpowered, but even he contributes to a memorable moment when his speech of guilt is delivered directly to Hamlet, as if challenging him to do something about it.
The play is four hours long but feels half the length, as the time just flew by. I was fully engaged until the end, which is just as well because the ending is one of the most powerful finales to Hamlet I have ever seen, matching the intimate nature of the production. This is a show I don’t think I will be able to forget in a hurry.