The Danish Prince has once again invaded the West End. Robert Icke’s almost four hour long production of “Hamlet” has been extended to the Harold Pinter Theatre this summer after a sold out run at the Almeida Theatre.
The list of famous Hamlets is star studded, and there have been countless productions, but Almeida Theatre’s production has redefined “Hamlet.” Andrew Scott plays the title character and has had to face harsh comparison to his “Sherlock” co-star Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hamlet in 2015.
The intimate theatre helps connect the audience with Hamlet, with every soul searching soliloquy, we feel for the pained prince. Scott takes his time with his speeches and has a natural sense of loss and confusion. He wanders aimlessly and sometimes seems to lose control of his emotions, yet it all feels so real. Most productions try to cut and real in Hamlet’s lengthy emotional discourse, yet with the length of this production Scott had plenty of time to draw the audience in and experience everything with him.
Scott is by far the best actor in the production, yet the ensemble around him stayed consistently strong and supported the depth of the play. Amaka Okafor surprisingly stood out as a compassionate Guildenstern, changing the chemistry and importance of the normally disposable Rosencranzt and Guildenstern duo. While in most production Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are interchangeable and easily forgettable, this production seems to show the deep friendship of the characters, and how deeply troubled they are by Hamlet’s transformation.
Icke did a wonderful job of making every character significant, yet Angus Wright’s Claudius fell flat. His reoccurring joke of being technologically illiterate became frustrating when he also seemed to lack basic communication skills. He never seemed to fill the stage, as a King should, and his soliloquy about praying in the later half of the show is strangely directed at Hamlet instead. It would have been more believable is Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude was in charge of Denmark, as she showed strength and control of the stage far more than Wright ever did.
Many of Icke’s productions at the Almeida Theatre have been over three hours, so it was no surprise when the running time was originally announced at 4 hours and 15 minutes. It has since been cut down to 3 hours and 45 minutes with two intervals. The run can seem daunting, but it was all worth while as the show was mesmerizing and wonderful.
The complex multimedia by Tal Yarden and simplistic set design by Hildegard Bechtler worked wonderfully together, as it truly was about the beauty of the words and actors. Each scene was like a present of poetry to the audience and Scott’s slow decent into madness was believable and heartbreaking.
This production is unique because Almeida Theatre offered a week long festival of free performances and workshops for anyone under 25. This let over 1,500 young adults see this wonderful piece of art for free, and learn about the impact the production has. This show was not just about making money or having another famous person perform Shakespeare, this festival shows that it is about having theatre connect to an audience.
Almeida Theatre “Hamlet For Free” had 16 workshops spread throughout four days, April 10th through 13th. These workshops touched on poetry, hip-hop, writing, acting and how to spread ideas. All of these workshops were free, and this included five productions that were completely reserved for people 25 and under.
Rupert Goold, Almeida Artistic Director said: “Hamlet For Free celebrates the young people who belong at the heart of the Almeida’s community. We are delighted to be producing this entirely free festival around Robert’s production of Hamlet, harnessing the imagination and energy of the Almeida for what will be an electric four days.”
Productions of this depth and reach are not found in many areas, showing that London does conquer when it comes to producing theatre, and that Shakespeare can still draw a crowd almost 400 years later.
While this is not the first or last large scale production of Hamlet, it will definitely be held in high esteem, potentially breaking to the top of the “Top Ten Hamlets” list.
“Hamlet” will be at the Harold Pinter Theatre from June 9th to September 2nd.