28th February 2017
Alas poor Sherlock, we know it well. Even in the opening scenes of this ingenious production, it was clear that Andrew Scott would more than match his TV co-star Cumberbatch.
However, Scott’s considerable natural talent and charisma isn’t even the best thing about this production, a title that belongs to Robert Icke’s masterful direction. Icke is already known as one of the sharpest directors around, capable of breathing life and freshness into even the most tired texts. Well-known passages are made to feel new and every joke, silence and poignant moment is mined for all it can provide.
Just like his marathon Uncle Vanya last year, Icke is willing to let the play breathe, with a running time of just under four hours, and despite this it never outstays its welcome.
It is a hyper-modern production (with stylish sofas and flat screen monitors), along with a particular focus on the surveillance society, a device that works to great effect. Thus, the ghost of Hamlet’s father first appears on CCTV, Polonius reports on a deranged Hamlet through an earpiece and hand-held cameras provide well-judged close-ups of key moments.
Icke has assembled an all-star cast, many of whom lit up his previous productions. Scott’s Hamlet is oddly likeable and mischievous, full of knowing glances and quips. Yet he packs a remarkable intensity and ability to portray one of Shakespeare’s most disturbed characters. The scene in which he breaks down as he meets his father is particularly well done, as Hamlet tearfully touches and embraces the ghostly figure.
Juliet Stevenson is a subtle and powerful Gertrude, bubbly and vivacious at times and yet raw and grief-stricken at others. Jessica Brown Findlay is a tender Ophelia, whilst Peter Wight adds comic relief as a worrisome and entertaining Polonius.
Some of the secondary characters did not seem quite so fully formed, especially the unremarkable duo of Horatio and Laertes. There was also varying quality of diction across the cast, meaning that some of the lines were mumbled and lost.
Tal Yarden's video provided a thrilling backdrop, whilst Tom Gibbons' menacing soundscape also added considerable tension. The sleek and minimalist set is similar to Icke’s Oresteia but no less effective, with a partitioned back area providing some fantastic reveals.
Icke is a director who is full of ideas. They don’t all hit the mark; a reworked ending didn’t give quite the payoff that the production deserved. However, his plays are always bursting with vigour and creativity; you’re sure to see a Hamlet like no other.