Is this a Hamlet which I see before me? 

Ian Rickson’s very smart production of Hamlet at the Young Vic is set in an insane asylum, the cast serving dual purposes as both the characters and the psychiatric staff observing, responding to and caring for the patient Hamlet. It is an interpretation that is supported very organically by the text.

The lights are used to great effect in the intimate thrust stage space (blackouts and sudden flashing during ghost scenes are always thrilling); there are many belly laughs, particularly from Michael Gould’s adorable Polonious, and the play within the play closes the first half on a real high.

…a degree of beauty of the text is lost, floundering in it’s own excess.

Is the beauty of the text lost over three and a half hours?

I have two quibbles. Here they come.

The production runs to three and a half hours. That’s long. Which would be fine if it was necessary. While saying it would benefit from being shorter feels like a cop out, the 4000 lines of Hamlet do have a tendency to meander, and a degree of the beauty of the text is lost, floundering in it’s own excess. Not every word of Shakespeare is necessary. Blasphemous of me I know, but a little pruning makes flowers even more beautiful and in this instance, I feel the snip of an editor’s scissors would have brightened the gold of Hamlet’s poetic beauty.

Sir Derek Jacobi viewed King Lear as the last great test of an actor’s skills, Hamlet as the first. We accept many things in theatre: women as men, adults as children, people as animals. Theatre necessitates an open mind to these things. But that most famous of indecisive youths played by a 42 year old?

…he’s on my list of people I’d like to… anyway…

Which brings us to quibble the second. Michael Sheen, though by no means the first middle-aged Hamlet, is no fresh-faced student. Though he displays the energy of one, he is only one shade of gray away from being closer to Lear than to Hamlet. There’s no denying Sheen is a wonderful, transformative actor; he’s on my list of people I’d like to… anyway, he’s a good one, delivering an agitated and frantic portrayal of a fracturing mind and an agonised heart. But it is hard to accept middle age representing the paragon of quandary youth.

Forget that it’s Hamlet. Don’t worry that it’s Shakespeare. See it and make up your own mind, it’s a good time.

And Michael Sheen, live long and prosper. And come back and play Lear in 15 years.

The production runs until 21 January 2012.

Tickets from £10

3 Stars

Images courtesy of The Young Vic


About The Author

EJ hates few things more than the maxim: 'they don't make 'em like that anymore.' They are making them like that. Right now. So let's talk about it.

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