HAMLET: William Shakespeare
Birmingham Rep Theatre: Main House
Reviewed: Rod Dungate, 20th September 2000
Huge and elegant production, marvellous staging, relationships as engaging as
they are destructive
Bill Alexander has masterminded a huge and elegant production that fills the vast
Rep acting space with great waves of passion. Yet at the centre of it all are a series of
relationships as true as they are engaging and as beautiful as they are destructive.
Leaping, dancing, snarling and sobbing his way through this complex tale is
Richard McCabe’s Hamlet – no holds barred, courageous and sure-footed. He throws
himself into the role with a neurotic energy that is little short of mesmerising and
solves the perennial problem of ‘Is Hamlet mad or acting mad?’ by making him mad
because he is acting mad. Until he returns from England, that is, when his very
calmness releases his deepest passion.
At the beginning of the play it is clearly pointed up that he hardly knows Horatio
(John McAndrew), but the growth of love and understanding between the two men is
one of the few lovely things in this rotten state of Denmark.
Gerard Murphy’s Claudius moves from pleased with himself to uncertain to
downright cynical: he is always believable and it is, on the surface, attractive – it is
easy to see why Gertrude fell for him. David Hargreaves’s Polonius is a warm hearted
pensioner with a life-time of indispensable service behind him. He is as endearing as he
is irritating and Hargreaves brings out all the humour but never at the expense of the
Ruari Murchison’s sets, complemented by dramatic lighting by Tim Mitchell, are a
major factor in the marvellous staging, opening up the vast space and closing it down
into claustrophobic darkness. Jonathan Goldstein’s insistent soundscape not only
underscores the drama but also succeeds in raising tension too.