Theatre Review: Hamlet

Posted on: 22 October 2010 by Mark O'haire

Every actor worth his salt has one big ambition – to play Hamlet – as it is possibly the most demanding and complex role in the drama canon and marks the pinnacle of a stage career.

The latest to rise to the challenge is Rory Kinnear and he acquits himself magnificently in Nicholas Hytner’s masterly new modern production of Hamlet at the NT’s Olivier auditorium.

Shakespeare’s timeless tale of a Prince seeking revenge for his father’s murder by his uncle, who has then taken the throne and married Hamlet's mother, is a political drama as well as a play about the journey of an individual self. It holds up a mirror to a world of royalty, courtiers, politicians and ambassadors, not to mention such ordinary people as student, actors and gravediggers. Elsinore here is depicted as a society steeped in paranoia, a corrupt police state where surveillance is everywhere in the form of hidden microphones, tv cameras and eavesdropping security men lurking round every corner – even the Prince of Demark’s closest friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are ordered to spy on him.

Hytner’s gripping production, with the men dressed in sharp suits and ties like ominous city bankers or devious politicians, has many memorable scenes such as when the Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears as if from nowhere. Here, the Prince is unsure whether this is a devil sent to tempt him into evil action and when he is finally convinced that it is a genuine apparition at a play he stages by watching the reaction of Claudius, his treacherous uncle who has usurped the role of King of Denmark, he sets about getting his revenge.

Vicki Mortimer’s intimate, claustrophobic set rather resembles the interior of an embassy, whilst Jon Clark’s dramatically effective lighting creates pockets of focus and moody tracts of shadow.

But the power of this production derives mainly from Rory Kinnear’s tremendous, multi-layered performance as Hamlet. Alienated from the start, Kinnear presents a man both shocked and perplexed by the news of his father’s sudden death and who feels he is on a mission to avenge the murder. As well as a scrupulous attention to diction and an intelligent, incisive command of the nuances of Shakespeare’s language, most notably in the ‘to be or not to be’ speech, Kinnear also displays an acute psychological development, capturing the humanity, humour and pain of a man whose character cannot be easily defined. Alongside him is Patrick Malahide as a sinister, scheming Claudius, Ruth Negga a streetwise and emotional Ophelia (when she slides into insanity she comes on pushing a trolley), and James Laurenson who fully convinces as a quietly spoken Ghost.

This truly is a Hamlet for our times and an evening to cherish in the theatre.

Continues in repertory.

By Laurence Green

Box office: 020 7452 3000
Press: 020 7452 3333

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