Pros: A well realised, gimmick free production featuring a strong cast.
Cons: At almost four hours long, this production isn’t for those hoping to get home at a sensible hour.
The Almeida Theatre in Islington is one of my favourite off-West End theatres (annoying columns in the stalls aside) partly because of its commitment to showcasing interesting modern plays and new work. I was therefore surprised to see that they were staging Hamlet, but was interested to see what Associate Director Robert Icke would do with the play.
Icke’s production is set in modern day Denmark and features stripped back staging comprising sliding glass doors and an imposing television screen used to relay state broadcasts and CCTV footage. While I’m not well-versed in Shakespeare and have never previously seen Hamlet, I have watched enough modernised Shakespeare to know what I like. This production does not resort to gimmicks or superficial modernisation, but utilises a handful of devices such as the use of CCTV and bugging equipment to add a layer of paranoia to the play, which I found interesting and creative. The show’s staging and lighting are both effectively pared back, helping to complement each scene without distracting from the action. Aside from these changes, the play is left relatively unaltered and the text is allowed to shine.
The real strength of this production lies in the quality of the cast. Particular mention must go to David Rintoul as Ghost/Player King and Peter Wight as Polonius, who both give especially robust and potent performances. The cast are all impressively fluent and confident with the script, which helps to make the play easy to follow and engage with.
I have previously seen Andrew Scott at the Royal Court in the play Birdland and found his performance a little repetitive and grating so I was concerned that I might not enjoy seeing Scott in a longer production. However, my worries were completely unfounded. Scott’s performance is dynamic, engaging and masterful. While a few moments risked being overly dramatic, the majority of Scott’s performance is impressive. I was particularly struck by how effortlessly and conversationally Scott delivers the play’s soliloquies, making them intimate and a joy to listen to.
It has been widely commented upon that, at four hours long, the production is lengthy even for Hamlet. Having seen a four and a half hour Shakespearean production in the past, I wasn’t as phased as I might have been by the show’s length, but I was still struck by how deft it felt. The play does not drag and the running time feels justified and earned.
Although this production does not feel like an instant classic, it still has a lot to recommend it. The strong performances, handsome set and particularly impressive turn from Andrew Scott make this Hamlet well worth watching.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Robert Icke
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/hamlet/16-feb-2017-22-apr-2017
Booking Until: 15 April 2017