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Hamlet

Reviews

“An outstanding Hamlet in a first-class production”
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I have been privileged to see several first-class Hamlets this century: Simon Russell Beale, Samuel West, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, arguably Lars Eidinger. Andrew Scott is at least as outstanding as any of those, and right now I’m inclined to rank him in front.

His Prince is almost always self-aware, but not self-understanding; on the contrary, his keynote is a kind of bemused wonder at goings-on both within and beyond his skin. The great soliloquies seem new-minted, every word a separate question. The playfulness at which Scott so excels (most notably as Moriarty in BBC-TV’s Sherlock) is here kept under a rigorously tight rein. I did not see this production when it opened at the Almeida a few months ago, but my impression is that neither Scott’s nor anyone else’s performance has been ramped up for a venue two and half times the size; the consequent occasional intelligibility problems are far outweighed by the sense of human scale.

For this is the glory of Robert Icke’s production. It does not consist of a superlative Prince Hamlet, a clutch of fine supporting performances and a number of sharp directorial ideas stitched together into a plausible fabric; rather, it is whole and entire of itself. Angus Wright’s cool, disciplined Claudius, Juliet Stevenson’s besotted-then-horrified Gertrude, Jessica Brown Findlay’s Ophelia (at first at sea like Hamlet, finally psychologically shattered in a wheelchair), David Rintoul’s doubling of the Ghost and the Player King . . . all are as integral to the piece as Scott’s Prince. The modern media/surveillance society comprises not just the CCTV screens on which the Ghost first appears and Danish news reports on the Fortinbras subplot; Polonius wears a wire when trying to draw Hamlet out, and even a passing line such as “But look where he comes” is delivered with a glance at a video monitor.

Time is a major, though discreet, theme of the production, whether it is the time that is out of joint, the time whose readiness is all or that which is limited for each one of us. Several characters have business with wristwatches, and the affecting final scene draws the threads together. This may also permeate the use of Bob Dylan recordings as incidental music: that sense in his lyrics that so much of reality is plastic, yet certain factors are ineluctable. And a prediction to close: following David Lan’s announcement of his retirement from the artistic helm of the Young Vic, I’d say the job is Icke’s for the asking.

Ian Shuttleworth
"An all-consuming marvel"
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After a sell-out run at the Almeida, Hamlet has transferred to the West End and is an all-consuming marvel. This vigil of a production, directed by Robert Icke, reminds us of the extent to which Hamlet is about surveillance. Designer Hildegarde Bechtler has seized stylishly on modern ways of being watchful – including a patchwork of screens. Hamlet’s father’s ghost is sighted on CCTV. Who, in this play, is not a spy? Almost everyone is spying on someone, and Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is at pains to remind us that, at the theatre, we spy on ourselves.

In dishevelled black, his frantic prince could pass as a contemporary theatre director. He warns the players against overstatement yet allows his own hands comic freedom. Scott ranges from natural distraction in his aspect to theatrical flamboyance, his fingers in SOS mode – animated starfish. Each soliloquy sounds as though he were thinking it for the first time as he mixes the conversational with the histrionic. Hamlet may be in doubt but Scott is not – he is a brilliant communicator and ensures that Shakespeare’s language never sounds archaic.

Icke directs Gertrude and Claudius so that their sexual infatuation is blatant. You won’t see a more involving Gertrude than Juliet Stevenson – maternal, sensual and tormented. Claudius is the ultimate smooth operator – coercive and given to smarmy platitudes (exemplary performance by Angus Wright). We see there is every reason for Hamlet to be eye-rollingly vexed by his stepdad’s urbane machinations.

Peter Wight’s tremendous Polonius is more than a windy old fool tying sentences up in knots. He is emotional, serious, loving to his children – worthy of respect as well as of ribbing. As Laertes, Luke Thompson is meticulously accomplished and Jessica Brown Findlay’s wonderful Ophelia makes something fluent out of the fragmentation of madness – appearing in a wheelchair, as if paralysed by circumstance.

At every turn, Icke opts for whatever is needed to extend the emotion of the play. This includes his use of Bob Dylan’s music. Not Dark Yet pours into the final duel – with the line “Feel like my soul has turned into steel” accompanying the flash of foils.

Kate Kellaway
"Scott turns famous soliloquies into acts of intimacy with the audience”
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When this production of Hamlet, starring Andrew Scott, opened at the Almeida Theatre in March, I felt I had seen one of the great productions of Shakespeare's play in my lifetime. Its transfer to the West End has done nothing to lessen that sense.

The triumph of Robert Icke's direction and Scott's sensational central performance, is to make Hamlet feel like a new play. It takes the most familiar plot in the English theatre and the most quoted words in the English language and reveals them as fresh and vital.

Yet it does this without ever diminishing or traducing Shakespeare. The version performed is long and faithful; the words are all there. It is the vision that is different. It's like molten literary criticism, treating every scene with reverence but examining its meaning with new eyes.

Revelations come both big and small. Its setting is contemporary – Hildegard Bechtler's set – which looks stunning in this new setting – is a very modern palace, with comfortable lounges, dazzling fairy lights, and a battery of security screens controlling entry. When the Ghost (authoritative David Rintoul) first appears on those screens, prowling the cellars bringing loud bursts of static, it is genuinely frightening and exciting. It is also a clever piece of stagecraft: we know what he looks like because our first introduction to him is a newsreel of his funeral, screened in Danish, at the very beginning of the play.

When Scott's Hamlet hugs his father, something already hinted at is confirmed: this is a Hamlet about love, about families that are fractured and destroyed, not because they are evil but because they make bad and good choices driven by the most elemental human emotions.

This applies not only to the royal family – where Juliet Stevenson's Gertrude and Angus Wright's Claudius are so physically besotted that they can't keep their hands off each other – but to the Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes clan as well. It is Jessica Brown Findlay's devotion to her father (a wonderfully bumbling but warm Peter Wight) that makes her betray Hamlet and turns a gawky, lovable girl into a traumatised, terrified wreck; it is Gertrude's adoration of Hamlet that makes her finally see through Claudius (we know the minute it happens) and ultimately kill herself to save him.

None of Icke's interventions are gratuitous. He is not making Shakespeare modern because he has a few gimmicky ideas that he wants to impose. Every single detail is carefully thought through and explained, sometimes by creating silent scenes between scenes and sometimes simply by paying strict attention to even the smallest line; I have never, for example, seen the relationship between Hamlet and his friend Horatio better realised, and this is in part achieved by making the simple phrase 'my lord' full of meaning.

Every aspect of the production is sensitively executed (hats off to the entire team), but at the heart of it all is Scott's Hamlet, embodying in his stillness and his quietly conversational style all the staging's merits.

We in the audience are his confidantes in soliloquies performed right at the front of the stage. What he manages to do is to make those famous speeches unfamiliar, full of thought and feeling. There is not a single moment when Scott declaims a line; he talks to us, unpacking his heart, revealing his grief and his suicidal despair. His Hamlet is a man longing to make things right. In the radically rethought final scene, his discovery of a kind of hope is almost unbearably moving. I found I was crying.

One of Icke's interventions, to create the bond between the audience and Hamlet, is to raise the house lights when Hamlet is instructing the players how to perform. When he asks them to fulfil their duty to ‘show... the very age and body of the time his form and pressure' and 'hold the mirror up to nature', he seems to be speaking about the production in which he is performing. Icke has indeed fulfilled his ambition to make a Hamlet for the Netflix generation.

But he has done something more; he has revealed it as a resonant play for today. In Scott, he has a Hamlet for the ages, a performance that will go down in history.

I could write about it forever, but let me say plainly, this is an unmissable production for anyone who cares about theatre. Just go and judge for yourself.

Sarah Crompton
"Extraordinarily, heartbreakingly beautiful"
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Transferring to the West End, Robert Icke's Andrew Scott-starring production of 'Hamlet' remains remarkable

Moving seamlessly from the Almeida to the West End, Robert Icke's production of 'Hamlet' remains extraordinarily, heartbreakingly beautiful.

Though it must be pretty brutal up in the nosebleeds, the Harold Pinter Theatre is basically pretty intimate, and very little has been changed or lost in the move to the 800-seater - designer Hildegard Bechtler has even made the walls look like the tiny Islington theatre's rough exposed brickwork.

It's been slightly trimmed and there's a couple of cast changes, the most notable being the imminent departure of Juliet Stevenson as Hamlet's deeply, dangerously loving mother Gertrude (Derbhle Crotty takes over the role from July 4).

But star Andrew Scott is here for the long haul and remains startlingly fresh in the title role, his desperately vulnerable Danish prince sobbing out the soliloquies as if he was thinking of the words for the very first time. It’s the strength of the ensemble – and the sense that these characters are a community – that makes the three-and-a-half-hours zip by, though. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Ophelia as a passionate posh girl Ophelia whose feeling for Hamlet are clearly reciprocated; Peter Wight as a startlingly potent Polonius, his rambling implied to perhaps be the first stages of dementia.

It’s a production marked by constant quietly radical choices - what the hell is going on in Claudius's now deeply ambiguous confession scene? - but second time around it was the final scene that really floored me. Far from the usual brutal bloodbath, it shimmers with warmth and companionship and the heartbreaking sense that Hamlet and extended family are good friends who've misunderstood each other, not mortal enemies (in another audacious intervention from the director, Luke Thompson’s Laertes appears to try to get out of using the poisoned rapier).

It does not end happily, but as the assorted dead drift off to an elegant, otherworldly cocktail party, the lingering feeling is not horror or reproach, but love; endless, complicated love.

Andrzej Lukowski
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The Times
“An amazing achievement”
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The Telegraph
“Hamlet with a heart”
“A career-defining performance… the most famous speeches feel fresh and unpredictable”
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Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is engaging and accessible, but also strange and dangerous. It’s a performance that combines fragility, charm, biting humour and predatory desperation.

At first his Danish prince appears contemplative, a natural outsider whose key traits are hushed melancholy and delicate intelligence. Yet later in moments of outrage or passion he howls, his frenzied words bursting from him like bullets.

Scott finds new paths through Hamlet's soliloquies, dwelling on certain words as if caressing their edges. He makes the most famous speeches feel fresh and unpredictable, and his silences are no less eloquent.

Director Robert Icke, alive to the play’s emotional heft, is certainly not afraid to linger over details, and his production, which has two intervals, weighs in at nearly four hours. But it has an admirable lucidity. Much of the time it feels like a modern and highly charged family drama, steeped in Nordic Noir. Shakespeare’s Elsinore has become a surveillance society in which rolling news provides juicy updates and the ghost of Hamlet’s father is monitored via CCTV.

There are striking performances around Scott’s Hamlet. Chemistry fizzes between Juliet Stevenson as his mother Gertrude and Angus Wright as her new and discreetly malign husband Claudius. Jessica Brown Findlay is a memorably raw and wounded Ophelia, and Peter Wight is especially good as her father Polonius, a man who’s essentially a pedantic bureaucrat but sometimes sounds more like a failed poet.

Icke’s interpretations of classic plays are unapologetically audacious, yet they have a rigorous logic. Here the tone is conversational rather than declamatory. There’s an abundance of Bob Dylan songs, and wristwatches assume unexpected significance — tokens of fathers’ bonds with their sons. Laertes has a flashy one, whereas Hamlet’s is an antique, a symbol of the family traditions shattered by tragedy.

Not all the modern touches work, and there are scenes when the deliberately leisurely pace means the production loses some of its grip. But mostly it's rich and beautiful — with Scott delivering a career-defining performance that’s charismatic and surprising.

Henry Hitchings
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The Stage
“A moving and human Hamlet. A performance of wit, delicacy and clarity”
“Wonderfully moving. Not to be missed”
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Moriarty in Elsinore? Yes, and Bob Dylan too. A handful of the Nobel laureate’s songs are powerfully woven into this much-anticipated revival, directed by Robert Icke and starring Andrew Scott. It’s the first dizzyingly high-profile production of the play in London since Scott’s Sherlock co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch, whirled about the version at the Barbican that was becoming remembered for the wrong things (including the questionable theatre etiquette of some of the fans attending previews and of certain embargo-breaking newspapers) even before it officially opened.

Scott has been served much better here – in the more judicious handling of hype and by a penetrating production that is often perverse – in ways that pull you in as well as puzzle. He ought not be landed with the kind of verdicts – “five-star Hamlet trapped in three-star show” – that treated Cumberbatch to a slew of rather invidious valentines. With Icke’s modern-dress version, it’s sometimes more a case of “five-star production trapped in a four star production”. Tom Stoppard once made a good gag about the constitutional patience of critics: “If it goes on beyond half past ten, it’s self-indulgent.” This Hamlet starts at 7pm and goes on to 11pm. It is. Arguably. Too slow. During the hero’s climactic fencing bout with Laertes, for example, we hear Bob Dylan singing his beautiful “Not Dark Yet” – “There’s not even room to be anywhere/It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”. I love the song. I love the scene. I hope that I am not an incorrigible philistine in finding their conjunction here less pang-inducing than a glorified “Geddit?”

Scott is a wonderfully moving Hamlet who first sees the Ghost on the CCTV screens of the Danish security guards and becomes possessed with pain. His Irish lilt is perfect for the part as is that strange elfin quality that makes him both sensitive and wiry, delicate and a bit demonic. I’ve never heard a Hamlet that takes us from the tissue-rustling of quiet despair (the line about “quintessence of dust” trailing off into an impossibly soft pianissimo) to the tantrum-throwing of sardonic scorn and self-mockery. I mean it as a compliment to all three of them when I report that I got flashes of Graham Norton and Fiona Shaw. Scott creates a faint, tantalising sense of the former’s “Scandalised? Nous?” in his rapport with the audience and, rather more loudly, he shares the latter’s genius for end-of-the-tether irony and temple-slapping incredulity. You feel soul-to-soul with him. The production gives him bits of business that made me fascinated with his hands. When expressing disgust at the “too, too solid flesh”, he stretches his arms out and gazes at them with a terribly alienated fellow feeling, so to speak. And when he shakes on his deal with the player king (played as a double with his father’s ghost) about the extra speech for the The Mousetrap, there’s a mysterious private warmth about the gesture that suggests a sly, subliminal Wizard of Oz-style recognition. 

The play scene is staged so that the royal party is seated in the front row of the Almeida and a news camera keeps track of their reactions. In close-up, the face of Claudius (the excellent Angus Wright) shifts by infinitesimal degrees as he watches the re-enactment of his crime. Instead of the usual stormy departure, his exit is all the more chilling for being so neat and the production takes a pause at that point – there are two intervals – as if there has been a faked technical hitch in the transmission of the live broadcast in Denmark to cover a terrible embarrassment to the new king. 

Sometimes coming across as a nouveau riche character from one of the Just William books who suffers the delusions of hailing from a John Le Carré novel, Peter Wight’s superb Polonius reports on Hamlet and his daughter through a wire tap fixed to his lapel. Juliet Stevenson is beside herself with fear that her son is so mad he might actually kill her. There’s a terrific urgency and belated tenderness in the closet scene and this Gertrude wakes up to the true nature of the man she married in a rattled but sly way.

When the production dwells on moments, it’s as if you are watching a drop of petrol fascinatingly dilate on the surface of running water. Sometimes you reckon that they have switched off the current. Scott might be even better if it were pacier, but this is a Hamlet not to be missed.

Paul Taylor
“Fine performances and intelligent touches”
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By a strange coincidence, Andrew Scott is the first major Hamlet London has seen since his Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch. Even odder is the fact that the two actors suffer a similar theatrical fate, in that their Hamlets transcend the productions that surround them. Robert Icke’s version at the Almeida is cool, clever, chic and has some good ideas, but also some that strike me as eccentrically wrong-headed.

Icke and his designer, Hildegard Bechtler, make it clear that we are in a totally contemporary world. There is news footage of the state funeral of Hamlet’s father, and his Ghost makes his first appearance as an image on the closed-circuit screens of the Danish security guards. 

Surveillance is, in fact, a key part of this world. Polonius is constantly wired up so that he can report the latest news of Hamlet’s mental state, Hamlet himself eavesdrops on Claudius and Gertrude’s post-honeymoon canoodling, and hand-held cameras track Elsinore’s leaders on all public occasions. No one is ever quite alone in this corrupt kingdom.

Scott’s performance fits the quiet, non-declamatory tone of the production. He is, for the most part, soft-spoken and gently ironic with a perceptible Irish lilt. There are flashes of genuine rage as when, observing his mother cuddling up to Claudius, he roars: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Confronting Laertes over Ophelia’s grave, he also goes into ranting mode. But Scott’s Hamlet is most memorable for his charm, self-mockery and ability to speak directly to the audience.

With “To be or not to be”, you feel Scott is engaging us individually in his own moral dilemma about the pros and cons of self-slaughter. This Hamlet also has the ability to send himself up. I’ve always been puzzled by Hamlet’s clearly bogus assertion that he has been in “continual practice” at fencing: here it becomes a conscious joke about his palpable unfitness and secret death wish.

In short, this is a good performance. Icke’s production also has some highly intelligent touches. I loved the staging of the play scene so that, with Claudius sitting in the Almeida front row, a camera tracks every shade of his reaction to the mimetic re-enactment of his own crime. It was also fascinating to see Ophelia in the mad scene played as a hospitalised patient rather than as someone licensed to do a peculiar cabaret turn.

But one or two of Icke’s ideas strike me as dotty. I cannot fathom why Claudius should make his confession of murder not to an unseen divinity but to Hamlet standing in front of him holding a pistol. Why, if the king came clean, wouldn’t his nephew shoot him?

Even if there are odd features to the production, the performances are generally fine. Angus Wright and Juliet Stevenson for once present us with a Claudius and Gertrude who are physically wrapped up in each other and lose no opportunity for making love, even when there is a diplomatic mission on the doorstep.

Jessica Brown Findlay, though she occasionally drops her voice at the end of lines, charts the progressive stages of Ophelia’s downfall. Peter Wight as a sinisterly snooping Polonius and David Rintoul, doubling as the Ghost and Player King, both exude great authority.

It’s a long, four-hour production and one that mixes insight and occasional absurdity, but it is Scott’s sweet prince I shall remember best.

Michael Billington
"Dislocatingly fresh makeover"
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Midway through Hamlet a troupe of actors arrives at Elsinore. Coaching them for his own ends, the prince turns director, delivering an impassioned critique: “O! it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious, periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters…it out-herods Herod: I pray you avoid it.” It’s a philosophy director Robert Icke takes as his own watchword. Out goes declaiming, along with anything demonstrative or self-consciously dramatic, and in its place we get a conversational Hamlet that allows its audience to eavesdrop, forces us to turn voyeur in a contemporary palace of CCTV cameras and hidden microphones.

The effect is brilliantly, dislocatingly fresh. There was a risk that, once freed from the Almeida’s claustrophobic interior into the West End, Icke’s production might lose its uncomfortable intimacy, but instead it merely gains scope in the new contrast between Hildegard Bechtler’s sleek fishbowl of a palace (all sliding doors, hotel lobby-style sofas and chrome accessories) and the wider world that constantly breaks in on television screens that cover the walls. The rot at the heart of the Danish state stinks all the riper for being framed so tastefully – muted visual understatement only broken up by primary coloured flashes of the national flag.

But Icke’s updating only starts with design. It’s Shakespeare’s text that gets the biggest makeover in a feat that, whatever your views on the production as a whole, is remarkable for its unerring instincts. This is Shakespeare at length – largely uncut, supplementing the Folio with the Quartos where needed. This isn’t about updating detail or reference (the Emma Rice trick over at the Globe – cut-and-paste contemporary Shakespeare), it’s about finding new inflection in old words, revealing truths that were always there, guiding eye and ear to find new routes through a familiar landscape.

Icke is helped by Andrew Scott’s Hamlet who carves such clarity of thought through his soliloquies, invites us so completely into his play of logic and morality. This Hamlet is no vacillating bore, but a live-wire wit – dry and wryly, self-mockingly funny, puncturing the balloon of his own inflated passions ("Why, what an ass am I?”) long before anyone else can do it. His nervous energy drives the production forwards in erratic bursts of intention, ricocheting off encounters with David Rintoul’s charismatic Ghost/Player King, Peter Wight’s Polonius (a heart-tugging portrait of mental decay) and a tellingly gender-bent Guildenstern (Madeline Appiah).

There are moments of magic: the live-streamed performance of The Mousetrap, video screens projecting the reactions of a court who take their seats in the front row of the theatre itself; the initial encounter with the Ghost – genuinely terrifying; the sexual charge between Angus Wright’s Claudius and Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude. But there are also some issues.

The dumbshow (scored to a Bob Dylan soundtrack) looks like nothing so much as a Building Society advertisement. Would Claudius really confess his sins to Hamlet (and would he, hearing them, really not shoot him on the spot?); would a modern-day Ophelia really accept so much, so quietly from her lover as Jessica Brown Findlay uncomplainingly does? Both she and Stevenson struggle to find their place in this updating, and Icke’s insertion of a dubious Quarto scene between Gertrude and Horatio suggests a recognition (if not a satisfactory solution) of the problem.

Running at nearly four hours (with an unnecessary second interval breaking the play’s stride just as it should be speeding up), this Hamlet earns every minute of its stage time. Far from a foregone conclusion, the ending reads newly charged as Laertes, softened by Hamlet’s sincerity, has a last-minute change of heart. For one wonderful moment we believe everything could yet be alright, that this will be the bout that ends in a handshake and not a body-count. Those bodies, when they finally come, weigh heavy indeed.

Alexandra Coghlan
"A bold, ambitious and intelligent reimagining of the Shakespearean tragedy"
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There is little doubt that Andrew Scott has some sizeable shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of the numerous celebrated actors who have taken on this role over the ages. Scarcely two years have elapsed since London’s last big-name production of Hamlet – starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role – opened to frenzied fanfare in the summer of 2015 and sold out the Barbican for its entire run. We’re certain, however, that this Almeida Theatre production – which has transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre, following a successful stint at Islington’s renowned theatre this spring – will soon be the talk of the town.

Andrew Scott absolutely shines in this bold, ambitious and intelligent reimagining of the Shakespearean tragedy. Adopting a conversational style, he breathes new life – and on occasion, some much-needed humour – into Hamlet’s well-known soliloquies. It’s a complex performance ranging from quiet contemplation to maddening rage, adopting the whole gamut of emotions in-between, but in each scene he oozes authenticity. It’s evidently a hugely demanding role but he never falters, delivering a captivating performance from start to finish.

While Scott is undoubtedly the star of the show, the supporting cast is equally impressive. Juliet Stevenson excels as the conflicted, anguished mother Gertrude; Angus Wright, as Claudius, plays the role of usurping stepfather with the cold efficiency required. Jessica Brown Findlay, as Ophelia, plays her part admirably; and while her descent into madness may feel a little sudden, it’s no less distressing to observe.

Robert Icke’s direction is masterful, too. Wrestling this classic text away from the confines of its original settings, he has reimagined Hamlet as a contemporary drama drenched in paranoia, set in a world of video surveillance and secret recordings. One or two elements may feel a little gimmicky at times, but for the most part it’s a resounding success, coming across as much more urgent and current than most modern plays.

We appreciate that Hamlet may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it is, at times, a challenging text, and this performance weighs in at nearly four hours, including two intervals. But there’s little doubt that this is an absolutely stunning interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, one that, on press night, earns a well-deserved standing ovation. Andrew Scott, with an excellent supporting cast, positively dazzles in this spectacular new staging – for fans, this is an absolute must-see.

Chris Selman
"Viscerally exciting"
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Once again, Hamlet is going to be the talk of the theatrical summer. Two years ago, Benedict Cumberbatch galvanised the town with a brooding, thoughtful prince at the Barbican in a slightly over-staged production of looming spectacle from designer Es Devlin and director Lyndsey Turner that was seen at the Barbican. Now Andrew Scott -- who plays Cumberbatch's Sherlock nemesis Jim Moriarty in the TV series that made them both famous -- proves to be Cumberbatch's own nemesis in a performance of more edgy, everyman qualities; though the two actors are roughly the same age -- they were born just three months apart in 1976 - Scott projects a more boyishly youthful demeanour.

But it is current hotshot director Robert Icke who is the even bigger star here. He has a way of wrestling classic plays from the accretions of history, whether they're the ancient Greek plays of Aeschylus (as he did with Oresteia in 2015) or the Russian 19th century masterpieces of Chekhov (as he did with Uncle Vanya in 2015), and reinventing them in the here and now. Each show has originated at Islington's Almeida Theatre, before Oresteia moved to the Trafalgar Studios and Hamlet has now moved to the Pinter.

The Observer's Susannah Clapp said of the former "you can almost see the dust flying off the old master", while writing of the latter, she brilliantly characterised his work as "giving the British stage electric shocks for the past three years. Particularly with his new creations of old texts." She quotes him saying that its a bit “like using a foreign plug. You are in a country where your hairdryer won’t work when you plug it straight in. You have to find the adaptor which will let the electricity of now flow into the old thing and make it function."



He has certainly plugged his Hamlet into something that gives it a jolt of high-voltage electricity that keeps the play's family tragedies churning with an inexorable dread and high drama. 

Even if you are familiar with the play it is constantly surprising, and especially if you are not, it will feel like it is newly minted. Here, following perhaps in the footsteps of Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies, it is played like an exercise in mass surveillance, with video cameras watching and recording every move. 



The play feels viscerally exciting. As designed by Hildegarde Bechtler with cold glass panels defining the playing areas, and video screens dominating, its a modern-dress production of hypnotising power. There's a creepily insinuating performance from Angus Wright as Hamlet's usurping step-father Claudius, and a really fine, anguished performance from Juliet Stevenson as his mother Gertrude. Also stunning are Jessica Brown Findlay as Ophelia, Luke Thompson as her brother Laertes, and Peter Wright as their father Polonius -- a doomed family caught in the power grab of Claudius.

Shakespeare lives in the here and now -- but also forever, thanks to a production that will become an instant part of theatrical folklore.

Mark Shenton

Synopsis

Andrew Scott takes the lead in a modernist Hamlet which feels fresh, unpredictable and lucid

In a minimalist glass palace of Elsinore – with screens showing rolling news of a Norwegian invasion – Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is contemplating his father’s funeral. He is also adjusting to the fact that his mother Gertrude has already remarried his uncle Claudius, who has declared himself king.

Suspecting foul play, and visited by his father’s ghost, Hamlet resolves to bring his father’s killer to justice. But his decision is to have terrible consequences for those he loves most.

This new production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by the Almeida Theatre’s Associate Director Robert Icke (Mary Stuart, Uncle Vanya, Oresteia, Mr Burns, 1984) stars BAFTA- and Olivier Award-winner Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Birdland, Cock, Pride) as the Danish prince, Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude and Jessica Brown Findlay as Ophelia.