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Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, review: ‘Marathon Hamlet gives Scott the time to shine’

PUBLISHED: 16:13 03 March 2017

Andrew Scott as Hamlet. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Andrew Scott as Hamlet. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

It is bold to produce four hours of Shakespeare, but Hamlet is a story that can’t be rushed. That said, four hours is a long time – the guy next to me couldn’t hack it; he was gone in the first interval

The depiction of grief and mental illness in Hamlet is made all the more poignant by the response of arrant ignorance. It has been suggested that Shakespeare himself was depressed and we know for certain that he suffered losses of immediate family.

In playing a character such as Hamlet, who has been acted in some form or another by most thespians in their youth, there has to be something different to each interpretation.

It is bold to produce four hours of Shakespeare, but Hamlet is a story that can’t be rushed. That said, four hours is a long time – the guy next to me couldn’t hack it; he was gone in the first interval (there are two).

It’s no overstatement to say that Andrew Scott makes this play.

Juliet Stevenson’s infatuated Queen and her “incestuous” relationship with Claudius (Angus Wright) is convincing in its lewdness, entwining at every opportunity, even when the Norwegian ambassador calls.

Jessica Brown-Findlay’s Ophelia effervesces with innocent joy at the start and retreats into her grief-stricken shell; Peter Wight is excellent as Polonius, obsessive in his nosiness.

But Scott shines, excelling in the play’s conversational tone. Every word he speaks is exciting, whether shouted or whispered. His ability to talk directly to the audience with the same intimacy and lilting charm as he does his co-stars is only part of what makes Scott outstanding.

The dynamic of evokes something of the taught, upright family for whom stiff upper lip is the dictum. From the start, as his family and friends enjoy a glamorous party, he sits separately, hunched on his suitcase, physically pushing the tears back into his eyes. It is clear from his love for his mother, and his joy at the return of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that the fate of Scott’s Hamlet may been have changed with acknowledgement of his sadness, rather than the attempts to suppress it.

Hildegard Bechtler’s Nordic set, which seems to close in and become more opaque as the play moves on, combined with Tom Gibbons’ oppressive score and the running theme of surveillance accentuate the sensation of being trapped.

As expert as Icke is the explosive moments, the shocks, the bangs and the sudden outburst, it is the quiet ones that impress most heavily – he’s not afraid to let speech hang in the air until it becomes uncomfortable.

The rest, as they say, is silence.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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