And this filmed take on Hamlet proves to be an inspirational revelation. Filmed in and around the Windsor theatre where it played, Mathias has filmed the play across the stage, backstage and front-of-house areas of the venue, giving a meticulously storyboarded interpretation of the story.
Film and theatre are profoundly different media. The live performance demands our attention on a scene or tableau, possibly quite diverse in its panorama, and often far away from where the audience is seated. Cinema however, as Norma Desmond made clear in Sunset Boulevard, is all about the close-up. And Ian Mckellen as Hamlet, in close-up, is quite simply a masterclass. Few living actors have a mastery of Shakespeare’s verse that can match McKellen. His delivery of the prose, both the famously quotable stuff as well as the lesser-known lines is exquisite and even those familiar with the text will find new revelations in the story through McKellen’s delivery.
A decent production of Hamlet demands a cracking supporting cast and Mathias has rounded up most of his 2021 company to accompany Sir Ian. Jonathan Hyde is a suitably evil Claudius with Jenny Seagrove stepping up to the role of Gertrude. It is in the Gertrude/Hamlet interactions - notably Act 3’s closet scene - that the age-neutral casting is most put to the test, but Seagrove pulls it off and if her death a couple of acts later is perhaps a little hammed up, the pathos with which she describes Ophelia’s death, is exquisite.
|Ian McKellen and Jenny Seagrove
Emmanuella Cole is a well cast gender-swapped Laertes, with Ben Allen also putting in a finely sympathetic shift as Horatio. Equally, Steven Berkoff’s Polonius is perfection in pomposity and Frances Barber delights as the First Player.
Amongst the supporting roles however it is Alis Wyn Davies who shines out as Ophelia. Frailty may very well be her name such is the carefully crafted fragility that defines her performance, with Davies bringing a light to the fair Ophelia that is rarely seen. Hers is a gorgeous performance, which when her voice is married to Adam Cork’s music in her tragic mad scene, is lifted even higher.
Squeezing in at just under 2 hours, Mathias has trimmed the text with wisdom and sensitivity. Set in contemporary dress in a dystopian locked-down world, this is very much a Hamlet for the 21st Century with Lee Newby’s design work sitting well in the compressed settings of the Edwardian-age theatre. Neil Oseman’s photography is similarly ingenious, adding a profound depth to the story's imagery.
In cinemas for one night only on February 27th and while there will of course be future online streaming, if you are able to catch this on the big screen, just go!