Almeida Theatre, London – until 15 April 2017
If you can get a ticket – and queues for returns have started before 6am – there’s every chance you’ll love the Almeida Hamlet even if you’re not specifically lusting after Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock) pitching to rival Cumberbatch’s star turn in the same role.
It’s Shakespeare for the Borgen generation – a slick and surveillance-heavy visual on a cool penthouse set where Juliet Stevenson’s splendid dirty dancing Gertrude can shag Claudius on a couch while the Norwegian ambassador paces the corridor. Enjoy cute turns of Amaka Okafor and Calum Finlay as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Jessica Brown Findlay’s bathtub-dunking Ophelia but even though you could ice a cake during some of his pauses, it’s Scott’s softly spoken, vulnerable and charming Dubliner Dane that holds your gaze and speaks the famous lines completely afresh, and as if to only you.
Is he better than Cumberbatch? He’s certainly better value – tickets for the Barbican outing routinely sold for £250 but top price at the Almeida is a restrained £38. How that may change if it gets a West End transfer is anyone’s guess but there’s hope on Twitter that this production may be filmed. It would entertain a wider audience, of course, but also be a more accessible resource for schools than the grandiose Kenneth Branagh four-hour version filmed at Blenheim Palace.
Cumberbatch – and his director Lindsey Turner – resorted to more trickery in the 2015 production: strutting about in an Indian Chief’s headdress, or a soldier’s scarlet coat, and his ‘Denmark is a prison’ speech reinforced by the crenellated breezeblock fortifications of a set like a toybox fort. Scott’s prince is imprisoned only by his own thoughts and feelings, and while both actors offered sensitive deliveries of the soliloquies, Scott’s has the modern quality of phrasing the words more as though they just occurred to him, and the intimacy of the 325-seat Almeida rather than the four-tier Barbican allows him to share them directly across the fourth wall.
It’s very #nofilter.