by William Shakespeare.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX
In rep to 9 January 2011.
On tour 8 February-18 March 2011.
Runs: 3hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 23 October.
Fresh, surprising and of our time.
For an actor, Playing the Dane must be analagous to climbing Mount Everest. Everybody who is anybody has undertaken it. David Tennant and Jude Law vied for critical supremacy last year, with Tennant walking away with the accolades. Michael Sheen is pawing the ground in anticipation.
Meanwhile Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre production, led by Rory Kinnear, is one that in many respects will be hard to beat. In terms of resonance, intelligence and gripping metaphorical theatricality – this really is a production that explores the art of role-playing in all its various dimensions – it certainly equals the Tennant at the RSC.
At first glance, Kinnear seems an unlikely Hamlet, his round, moon face lending itself more to a reassuring country doctor than a young Prince undergoing mental and philosophical breakdown. But he turns in a technically superb performance that shows how too much thinking can paralyse action.
If he lacks Tennant’s bitter, mercurial wit Kinnear does something even more extraordinary. By making Hamlet unexceptional, his capacity to act as an instrument of revenge seems even more remote. What you miss in terms of existential torment Kinnear also makes up for by the sheer beauty and intelligence of his verse speaking. When on stage, you cannot take your eyes off him.
Which is surprising because around him Hytner has not only built a court that in its constant surveillance – overhead jets, TV, video cameras – and multicultural personnel recognisably reflects our own world; he has cast some of the biggest hitters of British classical theatre.
Clare Higgins, typically, gives an amazing, full-throated performance as a blowsy, over-the-hill Gertrude. James Laurenson’s Ghost and Player King are memorable and David Calder’s Polonious is just the best you will ever see – no prating fool he, if given to private jokes. But a wise and essential counsellor nonetheless to Patrick Malahide’s smooth, political fixer Claudius.
That leaves Ruth Negga’s Ophelia, freshly reminding us how grief can transform obedience into rebellion. Almost every part has been rethought and – with one lamentable and important exception – hits the mark.
A Hamlet for our age; no question.
Barnardo: Michael Peavoy.
Francisco/Captain in Fortinbras’ Army: Matthew Barker.
Horatio: Giles Terera.
Marcellus: Marcus Cunningham.
Ghost/Player King: James Laurenson.
Claudius: Patrick Malahide.
Voltemand: James Pearse.
Cornelia: Ellie Turner.
Laertes: Alex Lanipekun.
Polonius/Gravedigger: David Calder.
Hamlet: Rory Kinnear.
Gertrude: Clare Higgins.
Ophelia: Ruth Negga.
Reynaldo: Victor Power.
Rosencrantz: Ferdinand Kingsley.
Guildenstern: Prasanna Puwanarajah.
Player Queen: Saskia Portway.
Lucianus/English Ambassador: Michael Sheldon.
Musician: Richie Hart.
Fortinbras: Jake Fairbrother.
Osric: Nick Sampson.
Messenger: Zara Tempest-Walters.
Priest: Leo Staar.
Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Designer: Vicki Mortimer.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Music: Alex Baranowski.
Choreographer: Fin Walker.
Company voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Fight director: Kate Waters.