Almeida Theatre, London – until 15 April 2017
LUKE JONES EXULTS: A TACTILE MORIARTY PULLS IT OFF FOR A NEW GENERATION
We’ve had so many ‘great’ Hamlets it’s hard to either keep track or care. Cumberbatch, Peake, Kinnear, Tennant, Branagh. Older readers can summon more. But with its wit, emotional intelligence, absolute clarity of thought and execution, Andrew Scott’s shits on recent ones from a height.
The court of this Hamlet is fashionably Scandi. The clean, grey, glassy set has been ethically recycled from this theatre’s Oresteia and the Royals who populate it are exactly the kind of Cos-wearing, slender Middletons we’ve come to expect in palaces. Robert Icke – surely the most accomplished director working – has blown the stuffiness from this too often seen play. Twice tonight – once with a fellow critic, once with a muggle – I had the conversation “have they added bits. Some of this seems very new…suspiciously fresh”.
Although there has been some clever pruning, to my ear there’s been no wholesale rewriting. Icke has instead fired up a cast with the most natural direction; the most thrillingly believable and sympathetic performances.
Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude perfectly navigates the torments and twists in logic her character demands. Laertes (Luke Thompson) is exactly the right mix of wimpish and headstrong. Ophelia – always an unconvincing turn with a descent into madness even Alton Towers would reject as ambitious – is quietly devastating; Jessica Brown Findlay turns it round perfectly.
The entire cast (except, IF I’m being mean, ever-stodgy Angus Wright as Claudius) has this incredibly tactility. They hug, kiss, pat on the shoulder, even shake hands in the most human, un-actorish way I’ve ever seen. The result is something so un-Royal, fluid and passionate. Still moments, the kind always sped past in Shakespeares like this, are properly exploited with flesh, not just words.
Hamlet’s direction to the players could have been Icke’s own; “in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”
All of this, of course, falls perfectly into place because of the unfailingly watchable Andrew Scott as Hamlet. Yes, the madness suits the range we’ve already seen him exercise in Sherlock. But this has deep and sturdy emotional foundations. He matches like no actor I’ve ever seen the explosion of passions and the precision of logic Hamlet requires. He centres him, makes sense of him and picks a line, rather than giving himself to some undefined frenzy. Every line (literally – see above) sounds like I’ve never heard it before. Even the battle weary catchphrases (to be or no to be, get thee to a nunnery, alas poor Yorick) are touched up with new life. Where most Shakespearean performances veer between sounding meaningless or over-thought, Scott’s streams out like source water.
So rare, but so fortunate, that this star performance is backed up by an equally star production. If you have a dear friend with a hard to come by ticket, I’d seriously consider harming them to get it.
Until 15th April
Box Office 020 7359 4404
5 thrilled, galumphing mice.