Tuesday, 22 March 2016

RSC Hamlet

The RSC's season this spring includes a new production of Hamlet, and I thought it would be interesting to see it. 

The title role is played by Paapa Essiedu,with Hiran Abeysekera as Horatio, Marcus Griffiths as Laertes, Natalie Simpson as Ophelia, and Tanya Moodie and Clarence Smith as Gertrude and Claudius, respectively.

The performance I saw was the very first preview  performance, and we were told, immediately before the play began, that the cast had not had the opportunity to have a full dress rehearsal on the main stage!

Despite one or two small glitches, which will no doubt be sorted as the run continues, it was a good performance and a very good production. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast.

The production sets the play in a contemporary, (unidentified) African nation, and at the start of play we see his graduation from Wittenberg University - there is a feeling of a clash of culture between Hamlet, with his foreign education and friends, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, here, presented as young outsiders - gap year travellers, perhaps, tourists unfamiliar with the customs of the country.)  and the court and customs of Denmark. 

And it works really, really, well.

Essiedu's Hamlet is young and passionate, very volatile - his 'madness' a relatively short step from his earlier volatility. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio appears deep and enduring - Horatio's loyalty to Hamlet, and his despair in the final scenes, as a result, are completely believable.

Cyril Nri's Polonius was far more dignified, and far less a figure of fun, than he usually is, which, coupled with the warmth of the scenes between him and his children, makes Ophelia's descent into madness following his death appear more a reaction to his death, than to Hamlet's repudiation of his love for her.

What else? Ewart James Walters is the most dignified and awe-inspiring Ghost you could imagine, and the final duel between Hamlet and Leartes is fast and thrilling (even though you know how it will end, and the production as a whole brings a freshness to the play which is pretty impressive, considering that the play is 400 years old. 

If you can get to Stratford and see it, I strongly recommend it. If you can't, try to catch it when it is broadcast to cinemas in June.

I believe that Paapa Essiedu and Hiran Abeysekera are both going to be appearing in the BBC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is showing later this year, as Demetrius and Puck respectively. I was looking  forward to that already, but after seeing this, I'm looking forward to it even more!

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