Harold Pinter Theatre, London
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Icke
Andrew Scott’s take on Hamlet, in Robert Icke’s Almeida production that has just transferred to the West End, is a testament to the versatility of Shakespeare’s prose. With Benedict Cumberbatch, TV’s Sherlock, having been London’s last celebrity Hamlet, Scott’s (who played Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty) take on the role offers us a striking glimpse into the breadth of interpretation and intrigue that is offered by the Prince of Denmark.
On Hildegard Bechtler’s modern, flawless set, seamlessly lending itself from Elsinore’s grandeur to its dungeons, the cast offer up the classic tale with daringly long pauses and underplayed comic timing. They revel in the poetry and articulation that the dialogue commands so that the audience, however numb their bums are getting as the third hour passes, never miss a moment.
The play is directed with Icke’s signature dystopian flare. His is a Denmark obsessed with cameras on every corner and machine guns in authoritarian hands. Here it is only Hamlet who finds this setup odd and slightly ridiculous. Scott plays the perfect madman, convinced of his sanity in a world of insanity, grounded only by his friend Horatio (Joshua Higgott) and the wisdom in his monologues.
As Hamlet’s perceived craziness unravels, with Scott’s small voice and large gestures demanding a quiet room, there is little doubt of the incessant screaming inside this mourning man’s head, buried under his philosophical and iconic words.
The drama is all the better highlighted by Natasha Chivers’ lighting, unsettling the audience with flashing lights and almost spotlit soliloquies. Bechtler’s costumes dress Hamlet as a woeful performer, with others as uptight citizens in a despotic world.
Jessica Brown Findlay’s marvellous Ophelia is a light in the darkness for everyone from Hamlet to Polonius (played with bumbling perfection by Peter Wight). The old man’s inherent waffling makes most sigh, smile and shake their head - thus his death is even sadder, with Ophelia’s loyalty and despair ever more understandable.
There is much clarity of tone from Scott and the ensemble, which occasionally contrasts with Icke’s work feeling rushed and muddled. Key moments unfold in seconds, while asides seem to last for minutes. And as for the play’s conclusion it is over in the blink of an eye, almost as if the dramatic action of the finale had not been given the same care and attention as elsewhere in the production.
Saying that, the show is well worth the night bus home, offering an evening of passion and surprise for even the most well-versed Shakespeare student. Scott’s is a Hamlet we can all relate to.
Runs until 2nd September
Reviewed by Heather Deacon
Photo credit Manuel Harlan