National Theatre, South Bank, SE1
Hamlet, National Theatre, South Bank, SE1
Director Nicholas Hytner and cast have plunged deeply into Shakespeare’s text and found a thrilling contemporary relevance in every scene. Our first taste of rotten Denmark is the scream of fighter jets over the battlements of Elsinore. The sentinels nervously brandish their Kalashnikov rifles, adding to the sense of impending conflict, before a truly chilling encounter with the ghost of the murdered king (James Laurenson).
The very public nature of the confrontation in this troubled state takes place in front of TV cameras and a host of onlookers – security guards with earpieces haunt the periphery of the stage. Kinnear’s expressive brow and great physical energy make his a very likeable Prince, whose pseudo-madness has rarely been more amusing – his mattress lolloping is downright hilarious. The soliloquies are, you feel, less important for this production, and, showing admirable restraint, Hytner and Co. have focused their energies on getting the scenes right.
David Calder as the blundering Polonius has moments of brilliance; as his son Laertes (Alex Lanioekun) and daughter Ophelia (Ruth Negga) struggle to mask their mirth at his lecturing, his sudden seriousness at “to thine own self be true” is adept, his transformation into the Gravedigger, masterly.
There are flaws here: you never really believe in Hamlet and Ophelia’s love, (Shakespeare doesn’t make this easy) nor do the early scenes after the interval maintain the electrical charge of what preceded.
But these are minor quibbles – when Hamlet speaks the terrible “the rest is silence”, the heart experiences a terrific tug and it feels like one of the world’s bright lights has dimmed out. We embrace Hamlet as a friend, and mourn his loss as we would a dear one.
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