The most confusing thing about the production of Hamlet that Fifth and Sixth Form went to see on Thursday was, to me, whether or not one was supposed to clap. Broadcast live from the National Theatre in London to Dundrum cinema, amongst locations in sixteen different countries, this production starring Rory Kinnear in the title role, has been hyped up massively as being the definitive Hamlet of our generation. It didn’t fail to impress.
Using the setting of a Baroque palace as the headquarters of a modern European dictatorship, we were immediately thrown into a “Big Brother” sort of world. The corners of the stage were at all times filled with security guards and earpieces, and in his first scene rather than simply asking his parents’ permission to go back to university, we saw Hamlet being refused a visa to leave Denmark. The sense that the characters were constantly being watched gave the production an air of ill ease and the soliloquies were emphasised as being the only way a character could express himself freely (though in some cases it appeared they were still being watched even then).
Along with this new setting, new spins were taken on several features of the play. Claudius’s introductory speech and Fortinbras’s closing speech were both spoken as television broadcasts, and shortly before her death we saw Ophelia being dragged offstage by two burly security guards. These diversions from the traditional reading of the play made the production seem particularly fresh and exciting, even to Sixth Formers who, after finishing their second read-through, thought there was nothing about Hamlet that could surprise them.
Across the board, the acting was, as far as I could tell, faultless. Kinnear’s Hamlet was once again very different to the traditional prince I had in my mind, in his tired black suit and later a t-shirt adorned by a smiley face and the word “Villain.” His performance was spectacular, showing a huge range of talent, from soliloquies dripping with real emotion to some hilarious scenes of feigned madness- special mention must, of course, be given to his climbing into a suitcase full of books.
The comic element of the play was aided by a bumbling Polonius in David Calder - so convincing in losing his train of thought that most people in the cinema thought he had simply forgotten his line. Patrick Malahide’s Claudius was played to the extreme of cool and calculating; even his soliloquy seemed like some piece of clever publicity rather than actual emotion, and Ruth Negga succeeded in played Ophelia with a surprising amount of backbone. The production returned to the most simple of methods in portraying the Ghost- an actor in white make-up with red rimmed eyes walking across the stage which, despite its simplicity, managed to be particularly haunting. The Dumb Show just before the play was done in an extremely interesting way, the players in white masks dancing and giving a most modern interpretation of the word “mime.” These details, which are often hard to perform on stage, were treated with care, once more allowing fresh light to be shed on them.
Overall, the performance was hugely enjoyable. The performances were truly excellent, the interpretation of many parts of the play was highly original and allowed us to see the play from a different angle and whether we were supposed to or not, at the end we gave the peopleon screen a round of thunderous applause.
[click here for several press reviews of the production]