Friday, 3 March 2017

Review Hamlet

by William Shakespeare

Theories of Relativity

Yes, it's all about relatives in the eagerly-awaited Hamlet directed by Robert Icke and with Andrew Scott taking on the role of the sweet prince. That's not just because the Danish court is pretty incestuous but because the corruption within is all - well - relative. 

T-shirt-clad Hamlet (Scott) creeps back to Elsinore  with battered suitcase during the wedding party where his Mum Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) and his paternal uncle cum step-father, the childless Claudius (Angus Wright) do a smoochy nuptial dance. 

But if he had not been displaced in natural hierarchy by his father's brother, would Hamlet have joined in the usual court shenanigins? In some ways, he is a curiously unsympathetic, sometimes even sneering  Hamlet, his mother's son but without the coolness of age. 

For there's something also a little off kilter about Gertrude which culminated in us even wondering if she had a nefarious hand in an off-stage death. 

We're in a 21st century Denmark as regards the video technology and a laptop - but otherwise letters on parchment show its business as usual for paper records. 

The rooms are wide screen backed by sliding glass doors with Scandinavian-style furniture. Security guards control CCTV cameras. Gertrude slips from a backless, chiffon Princess Diana-like fashion creation to Jackie O chic (set and costume design Hildegarde Bechtler).

If Hamlet keeps Horatio (a rather lacklustre Elliot Barnes-Worrell) close to him, maybe there is a double agency at work or is there a family tree entanglement? 

Even Polonius's (Peter Wight) lumpen efforts could, with a different turn of events, be underestimated. After all the line between political success and failure is a hair's breadth. He has a son Laertes (Luke Thompson) to rival Hamlet and a possibly ambitious and certainly knowingly seductive daughter in Orphelia (Jessica Brown Findlay).

The 24 hour rolling news - some in Danish - on the screens which are periodically lowered and raised during the performance put us in mind that Royal massacres are not unknown even in our times. And of course very recently there are allegations swirling around the death of another member of a ruling family.

This was a Hamlet which grew on us rather than sweeping us away from the first. Maybe the aim was to introduce Hamlet as a slightly irritating outsider with a propensity to claw the air, speak in soliloquys and, curiously, a Southern Irish accent (admittedly Scott is a Dubliner), setting him apart from even his own parents like a cuckoo in the nest. 

Hamlet's fault,  and appearance to others as confused, seems to be to try and work out in what the rot in Denmark consists. Or maybe not to take a leading role in a court enclosed in a TV studio bubble. Also to assume that childhood pal Rosencrantz (Calum Finlay) and his former flame, the female Guildenstern (Amaka Okafor) are automatically of his party. 

Hamlet is almost in a Truman Show position. Those around him perceive the court's dangerous limbo now Hamlet's father is dead in dubious circumstances and where the son, a possible heir, is in jeopardy. Or in the words of Sir John Harington,  "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason". In short, Hamlet may in fact be a politician but the wrong sort of politician for the times. 

Does this work? At the start we have to say it did feel rather grating and slow. But we also wonder whether this is once again a production also trying to strike a balance between stage and broadcast where the pregnant pauses might be far more meaningful. In other ways, it's very much an intimate Scandi-noir TV Hamlet with a distinct psychological take, some of which may be taking place in Hamlet's fevered brain.

We also found the Bob Dylan soundtracks a bit - hmmmm. OK, we confess this review has been our own to-like-or-not-to-like Hamlet soliloquy because at some points it is a spy/surveillance drama more akin to the 2010 Rory Kinnear Hamlet directed by Nick Hytner.  At other points, it feels as if we are being sucked into the hesitating Hamlet's addled mental landscape until ultimately the two merge.

This is a Hamlet which disturbs the equilibrium. While the rolling news is almost clich√©, there was something very disturbing seeing Norwegian  troops. in modern uniform, in Poland in a newsflash.

The shade of the lunatic asylum - or prison or is it a TV studio? - hangs over Hamlet as much as Orphelia who may have chosen to take refuge in an asylum once her father is wiped out.

Meanwhile it is Hamlet's mother  who takes the action and proves something more than the usual Gertrude but she and Claudius finally seem forced to follow a script not of their own making. There's even something of a video editor's ending with a deliberate continuity gaffe. An upper range amber light for a strange but magnetic sliding doors, button-pushing filmic production.

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