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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Almeida Theatre  Spring 2017

Whatever else is going on around it, a production of Hamlet rises or falls on its central performance. And actor Andrew Scott gives us an attractive, quietly magnetic and wholly of-a-piece Prince who holds our attention and sympathy. 

There are a lot of other things going on in Robert Icke's production, some more successful than others. But it is Andrew Scott who will grab and carry you for just under four hours. 

Scott's Prince is a man so inward-turning that he seems to be half-soliloquising even when in conversation with others, constantly monitoring what he hears himself saying and aware of what that reveals about him, even to himself. The converse is also true – Scott's soliloquies are conversations with the audience, using us as sounding boards for his thoughts. 

And more clearly than most predecessors Scott shows us a Hamlet cursed by his remarkable intelligence and his sense of irony. Whatever else is going on at any moment, a part of this Hamlet can't help seeing it as a cosmic joke, a double vision that repeatedly gets in the way of his determination to act.

(The fascination of Scott's Moriority in TV's Sherlock came largely from his macabre sense of humour. Imagine a hint of that same quality, but this time as the character's handicap.) 

The result is an extraordinarily intimate connection between character and audience. 

Scott is surrounded by other strong performances, most notably Angus Wright's all-business Claudius, Juliet Stevenson's warm but steely Gertrude and Peter Wight's essence-of-middle-management Polonius. 

Director Icke and designer Hildegard Bechtler set the play in a technological present, with a bank of TV screens providing everything from the guards' monitoring of the battlements in the first scene to news reports of Fortinbras's army. 

The device is most effective in the Mousetrap scene, here played as a public event, with onstage cameramen providing close-ups of the King and Queen's reaction to what they're watching. 

And I don't want to give away anything, but Icke's staging of both Claudius's prayer scene and the climactic duel is both audacious and very effective. 

Other updatings, like having Polonius comically talk into a spy microphone in his lapel, the ambassador reporting via Skype, or underscoring some scenes with Bob Dylan songs, come across just as gimmicks.

(For my fellow pedants, the text is marked by a lot of substitutions for archaic words and by judicious trims rather than wholesale cuts, the most obvious losses being the burrowing ghost, chunks of Polonius's advice, the assistant gravedigger and Osric's foppishness. On the other hand, a short Gertrude-Horatio conversation from the generally discredited First Quarto edition is inserted, as I've never seen it before, and it insightfully colours what happens afterwards.) 

Andrew Scott and Robert Icke do not offer a performance of flashy set pieces that will stick in your mind while the rest fades, but one you will remember in its entirety for the way its entirety all fits together.

Gerald Berkowitz

Buy the script at AMAZON.CO.UK
Review - Hamlet - Almeida Theatre 2017  

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