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The Theatreguide.London Review

Young Vic Theatre   Autumn 2021

There are things you will enjoy about the Young Vic’s production of Hamlet directed by Greg Hersov. But you may also have the feeling that the performance is unfinished, that it is perhaps still on route somewhere.

It is given a contemporary setting and a powerful performance by Cush Jumbo as a young male Hamlet physically and emotionally raging against the world, her facial expressions fearless and resentful.

There is a clarity to the words she speaks. Even Hamlet’s jokes land so well they always get a laugh. Yet her performance has two problems.

Too often it has little connection to other actors standing around seemingly disengaged from the play. At one point Claudius(Adrian Dunbar) and Gertrude (Tara Fitzgerald) stood to the right of the stage looking as if they were waiting for a bus. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Claudius glanced at his watch and complained about the bus being late.

In contrast, Cush Jumbo’s performance is pitched at such an intense emotional level it can lack shading and flexibility. Although the temperature is turned down for the soliloquies there are other occasions when there can be a flash that is slightly over the top.

Adrian Dunbar is a victim of this unfinished production. He knows his lines but expresses them with a flatness that makes him sound like a jobcentre employee reciting the rules to some bedraggled claimant.

Even his attempt to pep himself up by fist-bumping Rosencrantz (Taz Skylar) and Guildenstern (Joan Borja), just looks a bit odd.

There are other odd things in this production. When Hamlet first sees the ghost we have the accidental firing of a machine gun which in the real world might have attracted attention but is ignored by Elsinore.

At the end of the Mousetrap scene when the visiting players have provoked Claudius to accidentally reveal his guilt, Hamlet performs a rap which though entertaining, is not exactly an inconspicuous expression of his jubilant mood.

Perhaps the most unsuccessful moment is the offstage killing of Polonius (Joseph Marcell) which leaves Gertrude looking slightly puzzled.

All the same, there are moments that shine, such as the affectionate dance of Hamlet and Ophelia (Norah Lopez Holden) that reminds us of the warm feelings they once had for each other. There is also the very moving tender occasion where Laertes (Jonathan Ajaji) carefully tries to physically comfort the grieving Ophelia.

This is definitely a production worth seeing, but don't expect to be completely satisfied.

Keith McKenna

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Review -  Hamlet - Young Vic Theatre 2021


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