Sunday, 18 June 2017
Peter Barker finds wit and passion in a production where the gulf between the generations looms large.
by William Shakespeare
Catching The Conscience Of A Nation
The transfer of the Almeida Theatre’s Hamlet into the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre is an unadulterated success, with Andrew Scott leading an accomplished cast in a memorable production.
Scott achieved global fame for his Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, but where Moriarty is an evil genius, Scott’s Hamlet is an angry and very human young man.
It's a cliché, but it's still worth repeating, Hamlet is so multi-faceted it’s always possible to draw insights from it into the human condition and also for it to be a thermometer reading of contemporary times.
And so it is with this production. Scott’s temperature is hot -- he is at fever pitch, but the prince’s antic disposition reflects the passionate anger of a young person betrayed, confused, numbed and then outraged by the actions of his parents’ generation.
He knows the marriage of his mother Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) to her brother-in-law Claudius (Angus Wright) is wrong. The transfer of this production comes after a series of terrible, wrong real-life events.
The numb shock, the realisation, the profound anger suddenly takes on new resonance as the famous lines and the play-within-a-play within Hamlet speak afresh.
The ghost of Hamlet's father brings clarity to and hones Hamlet's intentions and, many would say, reflects a generation gap between older and younger citizens where global warming, career insecurity, lifelong debt and the breaking of social contracts is descending on us in wave after wave.
Scott’s Irish accented Hamlet chops at his words which jump out at the audience with the driest of humour and, above all, a burning, angry, raw intelligence. His rhythms and intonations are pure 21st century.
Obviously with the worldwide fan base and celebrity, many of the audience around me were under 35 and possibly not there solely to see a Shakespeare play. Yet this is visceral production that may have taken many of them unawares and given them arguments to follow and grasp in a gripping plot during febrile times.
Director Robert Icke’s production, with set and costume by Hildegard Bechtler, is also pure 21st century.
There are video screens, dodgy Internet connections (Claudius cannot even get his computer to start, he has to be helped by IT), and live video streaming.
Even the supernatural is inextricably associated with CCTV broadcast and a bank of video screens manned by castle security guards with events reported as if they were breaking news.
Stevenson’s Gertrude also goes through her own revelation and re-evaluation of what is going on, the turning point coming when she is watching the play-within-a-play as she is needled into, "The lady doth protest too much" and her own realization.
Peter Wight’s Polonius, the well-upholstered old-guard courtier has the manner of a local freemasonry lodge stalwart, eminently believable in his verbal pomposity as an out-of-touch palace politician.
Icke’s production overall has wit: when Hamlet appears he has a worn leather suitcase, his baggage is dragged around as if he is always prepared to be a traveller to "the undiscovered country",
And, aside from the monologues, ths intimate production breaks the fourth wall, with Claudius and Hamlet invoking the audience and the royal family literally taking front row seats. .
It’s nearly 35 years since I saw my first Hamlet followed by several since then. Scott’s Hamlet is the wittiest, most intelligent, and most humane of them all and it is a performance that will long stay with me. A green light for a production which achieves greatness. .