I went to see Hamlet last night, at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Panton Street in London (a two minute walk from Piccadilly Circus). It was absolutely incredible. I’m still trying to collect and communicate my thoughts in a coherent way, because at the minute they’re all swirling around like the vortex in the third Pirates of the Carribean film.
Thoughts I jotted down immediately after the show: “I was only a member of the audience and the production has drained me. Robert Icke and the cast and crew have almost taken a piece of my soul that I didn’t expect to give today, let alone be so willing for them to take it from me” I was clearly feeling dramatic yesterday night…-
But wait, there’s more: “The most powerful adaptation of Hamlet I’ve seen. I nearly cried, twice, and am leaving with the weight of Hamlet’s sorrow and Ophelia’s grief heavy on my heart. Only Shakespeare (through Icke and cast) can do this to me. My life has changed, my outlook, I’m sure, will have changed. Once again, Hamlet has had a profound, irrevocable, and undeniable effect on my soul.” I was literally writing this on the way out of the theatre, and then on the tube home. It’s apparent that I was channeling some seriously dramatic vibes, but I stand by it. Cringe though it may be, yesterday’s performance of Hamlet left me more vulnerable to actually feeling my feelings than I have been for a while. I honestly feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience everything that Robert Icke, the cast and crew allowed me to yesterday.
Right, now for the details… (and, hopefully, significantly less inarticulate gushing)
Andrew Scott (you may know him as the Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock) played Hamlet, Angus Wright was Claudius, with Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude. The whole cast interacted seamlessly. Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is easily the best I’ve ever seen. He was able to bring such a quality of realism to the role, and it felt as though he was giving pieces of himself to playing Hamlet, by extension giving pieces of himself to the audience. (Not in like a creepy way, my point here is that his commitment to the role was 100%). Julia Horan (the Casting Director) is a genius. The dynamic between each member of the cast perfectly lent itself to the relationships they were portraying. I found myself completely able to believe every relationship, from Ophelia and Hamlet, to Hamlet and Claudius. Horan’s casting of Guildernstern as a woman added a layer to the relationship between Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, alluding to a romantic past between Guildernstern and Hamlet during their time together at Wittenberg. This, coupled with Icke’s direction of the pair’s (R and G) romantic relationship, added a layer of what could almost be read as conspiracy between the two against Hamlet.
Another thing I really, really am keen for within this cast and Icke’s direction is that even though the cast is full of “celebrity” actors, they weren’t allowed to steal the show and make it about them. Nothing in the direction seemed compromised or sacrificed in order to appease egos and keep feathers smoothed. (Though I doubt that any of the cast were like that, they all seemed amazing and humble at curtains.)
Robert Icke’s direction was just pure and utter perfection. It allowed the audience (and I think, Scott himself) to explore nuance in Hamlet’s “madness”, and I personally became of aware of new facets of Hamlet’s personality that I hadn’t tuned into before. Icke updated Hamlet, so it was set in “our time” (I tried really hard to come up with a better way of expressing this, but I have failed) which I feel was useful in making it more relatable, but what I loved, and can sometimes be rare to avoid, is that the modernisation didn’t become an element of the play that warranted a lot of our attention – it didn’t become one of the key features like it did with the adaptation of Faustus I saw a couple of years ago with kit Harrington. Icke took Hamlet and brought it forward, and I think that probably made it a bit more accessible for the wider community, made it easier for everyone to imagine the play, or the watch at the beginning happening within a familiar context.
Icke also brought Hamlet forward into a sphere that seemed much more relevant than it has before in another way. (One of my friends and I were discussing this today, actually;) Hamlet is one of those strange plays that becomes more or less relatable throughout one’s life. It could be the direction alone, or a combination of me being primed to receive Hamlet at this stage in my life. Either way, the (potential) combination of an impeccable production and something in myself was just so powerful and emotionally charged. What I particularly appreciated about the emotion of the play was that it wasn’t try-hard. It felt really honest and genuine, and each actor played their roles with emotion that was true and relevant to what was going on.
Laura Marling absolutely smashed it with the music. Ophelia’s song was poignant and powerful. The soundtrack of the play as a whole was incredible. It served to enhance the impact and emotionality of each scene flawlessly. The music contributed to the emotion of the play in a really soft, subtle way, which kind of offered the security of confirming that what you’re feeling, what the cast and the staging and the atmosphere is making you feel, is valid, which just encourages you subliminally to feel it more fully. I got choked up a couple of times, which is so, so rare for me.
I feel as though it’s unlikely that I’ll manage to say everything I want to say about this production in a single post without boring you to tears, but I’m going to try…
Peter Wright as Polonius is definitely a star of the show. He was so funny, and charming in a bumbling, harmless kind of way. He reached the perfect balance between sincere expression of emotion and humour. The dynamic between Hamlet and Polonius provided some light relief, and gave the audience something to laugh at amid the intensity of Hamlet’s dilemma. Polonius’ role is often underestimated within “Hamlet”, but Icke and Wright (I think, at least) worked together to achieve the character’s true, multi-dimensional personality.
Laertes is another star. He doesn’t really feature much till the end, but Luke Thompson lived Laertes. He acted the role with his entire body; he was so committed to the role and I found it inspiring. Thompson could also go from calm to raging in about 0.2 seconds, which is perfect and completely convincing for the role of Laertes, particularly when he transitions from learning of his father’s death, to learning of Ophelia’s drowning, to hatching a plot with Claudius. Thompson’s ability to switch from emotion to emotion is, for an actor, pretty important. To be able to do it with the seeming honesty of a human going through the loss and devastation and passionate vengeance Laertes would have been going through is incredible. Thompson acted with his voice, his body, his life, and his face came alive with each emotion his character was plunged into.
Icke’s interpretation of the deaths at the end was so poignant. It truly was like someone had stuck a poignard into my heart and was forcing it (my heart) into the already-massive lump in my throat. The Ghost King Hamlet became a Charon-like figure, ushering each of the characters through to the “other side”. Instead of gold coin as currency for passage, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet use their watches. The symbolism here was another poignard in my heart (and nearly got me crying) because Polonius gave Laertes a watch before he went to Paris, and The Ghost King was already wearing Hamlet’s watch before he’d had the chance to offer it as payment, in a really sad but reassuring gesture of support and comfort from father to son, as it had been between Polonius and Laertes. Icke’s interpretation of the deaths also allow us to get some closure on the fates of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, as they’re already dancing in heaven* in the background, as though all the characters had reunited at another celebration of Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage.
*(I think it was meant to be heaven, because everyone seemed pretty absolved of their sins at the end: “Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me”. My best bae Laertes wiped both Hamlet’s and his own slate clean, and Claudius had his monologue in which he confessed all his sin too).
It was so incredibly moving, watching all these characters (who had been struggling for the entirety of the play) dying, because their deaths solve nothing. Their deaths do not answer the questions asked of Hamlet; what ought he have done? Why was he so delayed in acting upon the wishes of his father’s ghost, and even a question regarding the very nature and intent of the ghost. The four deaths in the final scene leave all these questions unresolved, but Hamlet only becomes aware of it just as he is about to die: “You that look pale and tremble at this chance, That are but mutes or audience to this act” it seems to be only here that Hamlet becomes aware of the tragedy he has partaken in, and realises the futility of all his struggling, all his grappling with the idea of vengeance and morality.
Review: All the stars available to give (five stars, full marks, 10/10, 100%, thumbs up – In case it was unclear, I’m a fan).
I’m already planning to see it again, at least twice more before the runs ends on September 2nd. 1585 words, and an entire day of trying to write this later, and I. Am. Finished.
Hope you enjoyed it!! Definitely try to go see it if you get the chance, if anything just to see what I’ve been wittering on about for the last 1000+ words!!