Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The Young Vic, London to 13 November 2021. 4****. William Russell.

Cush Jumbo is indeed a Hamlet for today. Skinny, shaven headed, she creates a student who could have come hotfoot from the latest demo, rebellious, appalled by what his mother has done in marrying his uncle, and behaving badly towards everyone, even those he loves. She holds the attention throughout, delivers the set piece speeches as if they were new minted and deserves to draw the town. She also creates a Hamlet who is not so much a gloomy Dane as a self centred immature young man who does not mind who he hurts while nursing his own hurt. It is completely different from pretty well every interpretation there has been and undeniably a great one. The production, however, is another matter. A rather pointless set of monoliths which revolve and are in some cases transparent and keep getting moved about does nobody any service but fortunately most of the action takes place on the theatre’s apron stage. There are also some silly songs and the battle with Laertes is turned into a knife fight which, which quite thrilling, makes no sense and was a mistaken decision. Admittedly the time is more or less now and swords would be out of place and knife crime does exists but posh boys like Hamlet and Laertes could quite easily be fencers. Jumbo leaps all those hurdles the text has acquired along the way with ease. The trouble with Hamlet as a play, even if for the first time, is that the text has been mined by countless others and in a bad production it can be like sitting listening to extracts for a dictionary of quotations.,Here they sound fresh, new minted. For once the cast speak the lines well, nobody mumbles, and there is a really funny Polonius from Joseph Marcell, a fuss pot sublime rather than an old bore. Adrian Dunbar’s Claudius suffers from the fact that in his nice blue business suit he looks like a retired policeman and his Line of Duty character looms too high for comfort, while Tara Fitzgerald is a bland Gertrude who seems to view him with distaste and not to care much for her son either.However all that said this really is one of those unmissable evenings except that since the run is sold out it is eminently missable.

Hamlet: Cush Jumbo.
Claudius: Adrian Dunbar.
Gertrude: Tara Fitzgerald.
Ophelia: Norah Lopez Holden.
Horatio: Jonathan Livingstone.
Polonius: Joseph Marcell.
Gravedigger: Leo Winger.
Rosencrantz: Taz Skylar.
Guildenstern: Joana Borja.

Director: Greg Hersov.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Sound Designer: Emma Laxton.
Movement Director: Lucy Hind.
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy.
Lighting Designer: Aideen Malone.

Production photographs. Helen Murray.

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