Hamlet/Royal Shakespeare Theatre: Stratford
Until 28th Sept
by Richard Lutz
If you want this play as Hamlet-lite, all fey, contemplative, metaphysical and slightly wet, this is not for you.
This is muscular in- your- face frenetic Hamlet played by Jonathan Slinger, current golden boy of the Stratford RSC troupe.
He has the temperment of a cage fighter, the violence of a cornered animal. If he could, this Hamlet would jump into the front row and bite your nose off.
This is a big play with sweeping ideas and it’s also Shakespeare’s longest, a play written by a man at the top of his game, using words like no one else.
And with the Hamlet role containing nearly 40 percent of these words, it takes an actor with a large pair of shoulders and a great deal of ingenuity to take it on- and give it this muscular visceral torque.
Slinger does this: he is an actor with maximum stage power. There are no gaps, no neutral gear. It’s full on fast forward.
Director David Farr creates a world anchored, not in Jacobean piety and dreams of heaven, but of the muddy dirty earth we shall end up in. In fact, the whole stage is surrounded by a graveyard of sorts littered with remains of skulls. You have no doubt, in this production, where Shakespeare stood when it came to an afterlife: it is with the worms.
Supporting roles are handled well in this modern dress production: Greg Hicks is commanding as a step father who ultimately admits to himself he is a murderer; Pippa Nixon is an elfin Ophelia, at first in love with Hamlet and then driven mad by his feigned insanity; and Robin Soans is that clown of the verbose, Polonius, who gives an impatient son tedious advice that is in essence true, but also, endearingly, great verbal comedy.
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