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Andrew Scott in Hamlet - Review * 19 February 2017

Hamlet -as -1

This review is based on upon the first performance of Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre on February 18 2017.

An obvious opening statement: Hamlet is a rite of passage for an actor. The most challenging of Shakespeare's characters to play. It goes without saying that many have played him, and for those actors The Dane can often be the pinnacle of their theatrical career. In Andrew Scott's portrayal, we may have an interpretation that completely fulfils that statement.

A full initial disclaimer: We have seen Andrew perform in theatre more than any other actor in the Sherlock cast. (This is not through choice, it's just purely because he is actually in a lot of theatre.) The Hamlet that he has created here is something else, combining many elements of his own skill-set and some of his previous stage roles into a performance of bracing intensity and astonishing intimacy. The hook with the character is of course the feigned madness to lure his murderous uncle, but as we had possibly hoped, Andrew's Hamlet is one where the mania is incredibly strong, leading you to think that maybe this Prince is indeed quite mad. Aside from the ferocious raging though, the greatest asset that Robert Icke's production has is Andrew's ability to hold an audience's attention when he is alone on stage. The soliloquies in particular, where the auditorium is essentially pin-drop quiet throughout Hamlet's speech, recalls Andrew's performance in the shattering one-man Sea Wall. Speaking so quietly, and in such a distressed and broken manner lets him bring an incredible vulnerability to the role, which then explodes into furious and shaking rage. All this said, there are moments of levity and comedy here too, with flashes of his most famous role breaking through at times. If you are expecting the manic Moriarty though, you don't get him, and the play is much richer for it.

As you would hope, the supporting cast are all excellent, and bring new interpretations of their own to their roles, with four critical standouts. Angus Wright as Claudius, Hamlet's murderous uncle and now stepfather brings an intriguing and unshowy quality to the role. More than anything, he is genuinely statesman like, a facade of upright nobility totally disguising the evil that has lurked underneath the surface and that Hamlet is determined to uncover. Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude is vulnerable and fearful yet steely in her interpretation, the mother of the apparently mad prince by turns despairing and furious as events spiral out of control. Reuniting with Andrew Scott after Paul McGuigan's Victor Frankenstein, Jessica Brown Findley is a beautiful Ophelia. Vivacious and full of life at the start, before tipping into total mental collapse by her closing scenes, she is realistic and unmannered in this iconic and tragic part. And lastly, Peter Wight is simply a brilliant Polonius, summoning much of the unexpected comedy that is peppered throughout this version of the play, and sparking wonderfully off of Andrew Scott in numerous clever ways.  

The staging of Hamlet at the Almeida is economical yet incredibly innovative. While skirting around elements that would spoil enjoyment, we think it's fair to confirm this is a modern dress interpretation of the play, and not one spun into slightly off kilter or fantastical realms. The play is presented as if it was the current Danish royal court, and costuming completely reflects that. More impressive though, the simple yet opulent set design is bolstered with some clever technological tricks. The presentation of the ghost of Hamlet's father in particular is genuinely unnerving thanks to the use of technology - a first for us in any live stage performance of the play - and the fact that this is a modern world interpretation is brought to life through the daring use of video media. Plus, if you have a love of Bob Dylan you will be ably served here.     

Before closing, one last thing: Hamlet has been brought to life so many times, it is both foolish and churlish to draw comparison  to them - and yes, we're directly referencing the most recent blockbuster starring a certain Benedict Cumberbatch. This is the third time we've seen and reviewed the play after all, following The Young Vic in 2011 and The Barbican in 2015. The presentation you see at the Almeida is something utterly different from both of those, showing the true malleability of the words of William Shakespeare in their purest form.

Ultimately, Andrew Scott's Hamlet is one for the ages - realistic, broken, funny and altogether remarkable.

Hamlet is performing at the Almeida Theatre until April 8 2017. Ticket availability is limited, but tickets for all performances will be released on Monday 20 February 2017. In addition, day seats will be available from March 1 2017. As the first preview, our performance ran for just over 4 hours including two intervals - theatre staff assured us the runtime will reduce slightly as performances go on.