Trying to get ordinary people engaged with theatre is a tough ask these days. With a squeeze on household budgets and a vast array of media available from the comfort of your own home, why would you spend out on a ticket to see a play?
If you throw in the word Shakespeare, you get a reaction not unlike that from marmite. Many will have been forced to study it at school and therefore either love it or hate.
Creating a production, which stays true to the author’s original story, while making it more accessible to modern day audiences is not a new idea, but how Robert Icke has succeeded – with his version of Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre – where many have failed before him is by reinforcing Shakespeare’s humour within the tragic drama.
The production received a transfer to the West End following a phenomenally successful run at the Almeida Theatre and with its modern setting and stellar cast, is exactly the right type of stage show to entice in those who would otherwise not be theatregoers.
Obviously, putting a celebrity in the cast also ensures you will get bums on seats but this is no stunt casting of a famous face that is not up to the job. Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is both astute and infinitely endearing. As the prince of Denmark, who is heartbreakingly weighed down with the burden of grief following his father’s death, Scott oozes charisma as he meanders through the famed soliloquies as if he is making them up on the spot. Each phrase is perfectly pitched to ensure the verse never sounds out of date and with his passionate physical embodiment of someone who has suffered – with tense arm movements and a browbeaten deportment – his portrayal of Hamlet’s pain is utterly captivating.
He’s well matched by the rest of the cast too, with Angus Wright suitably hatful as the smarmy Claudius and the pairing of Madeline Appiah and Calam Findlay (as Rosencranz and Guildenstern) providing a welcome variation to the famous couple, while Peter Wight adds a great depth to the devotion of the blustering Polonius.
Hildegard Bechler’s slick design transforms Elsinore into a big brother-like state with cameras capturing every move, even the Moustrap scene, which is made all the more uncomfortable when the villain’s reaction is projected onto a big screen via video link.
Despite this being Shakespeare’s longest play, the production is so filled with magnificent performances that the three and a half hours flies by and I was heartened to see the diverse age of those in attendance. In fact, it’s the youngest midweek matinee audience I’ve been amongst for a very long time.
For a first foray into Shakespeare and particularly Hamlet, this is perfect, but even if you’re a seasoned watcher of the Bard, you won’t go wrong if you buy a ticket for this production.
Photos by Manuel Harlan