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Hamlet at the Young Vic - Review * 13 December 2011

Hamlet

An intriguing interpretation of William Shakespeare's masterpiece, the Young Vic's current presentation of Hamlet features astonishing work from all the players, not least Michael Sheen in the titular role, and a heartbreaking turn from Sherlock's Vinette Robinson as Ophelia.

Transplanting the action from historical normalcy to a modern psychiatric institution, the audience is led through the winding back stage of the Young Vic before the performance, transformed into the corridors of the hospital. Performers move around you as you pass through, sometimes causing you to jump out of their path, and eventually you emerge directly onto the floor of the stage itself, taking your seats in the surrounding amphitheatre seating plan. It is an extremely effective scene setter before the play has even started.

As Hamlet, Michael Sheen is frankly extraordinary, truly blending the lines between sanity and insanity. Despite the adherence to the text, one can never be sure of his true state of mind, reinforced by the performance of his father's ghost not by another cast member, but by Sheen himself, playing the role as if Hamlet is suffering from multiple personality disorder. Its through this trick Sheen shows his bewildering range - utterly thunderous and terrifying as the Ghost, yet furiously emotional and truly shattered as Hamlet. The iconic lines are delivered with ravaged aplomb.

Initially confident, loud and happy, Vinette Robinson's performance transforms into a truly great Ophelia in the second half of the play. Hunched and fragile in a wheelchair, caked in pale make up with ferocious rubbed red eyes, she is utterly broken, desperately singing to block the loss of her father and chance of love and giving a true impression of one who cares not for her physical welfare - leading believably into the character's infamous fate.

Among the other cast, Michael Gould is superb as Polonius, bringing a bumbling lightness and officialdom to the role; James Clyde imbues the villainous Claudius with an excellent degree of flash and smarm, all permed and laid back in his recasting as the head of the kingdom of his asylum; Benedict Wong is an impassioned, furious Laertes; and Eileen Walsh and Adeel Akhtar are welcome comic relief as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively.

Attention should also be drawn to the staging of the play, giving those in the closer rows incredible proximity to the actors, and the simple design of the stage itself, lifting away in the final act to reveal a gigantic pit of sand for the famous graveyard scene and final duel. It also allows the players one final sleight of hand that puts an entire spin on the play itself, and that we would be remiss to spoil.

Hamlet runs until January 21 2012 at the Young Vic. Day tickets are available for all performances, starting at £10 a seat. Head to the Young Vic website for more information:

http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/hamlet

It is worth noting the play does have an above average runtime, concluding at around 23:00GMT after a 19:30GMT start, so we advise planning a route home in advance if travelling from further afield.  

 
 
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