The fat has been cut from this Bristol Old Vic production of Hamlet, leaving the meat of the play. There is no Fortinbras subplot, the ghost and player scenes are stripped to the bare essentials.
It’s a minimalist, stark modern set, just doors and a staircase – although the way it is filmed, you don’t get to appreciate it in perhaps the same way you would watching it at the theatre. What you do get is the close-ups of the actors.
The only face you don’t see is the ghost which is an interesting choice; Hamlet (Billy Howle) doesn’t doubt for a second this cloaked, hooded figure is his father, but is it? Does he just want it to be?
Howle’s Hamlet, in this trimmed play, becomes a man of action; there is little room for confirmation, doubt and indecision. In fact, he is manic, angry and enraged – mad in purpose or a loose canon?
This contrasts with the cool, quiet of Finbar Lynch’s Claudius. If he didn’t confess, you wouldn’t believe he had a hand in Old Hamlet’s murder rather, he is protecting the realm from an heir who swings from irritating to unhinged.
Everyone seems cool and calm next to Hamlet. And that becomes a problem. Howle’s performance isn’t small; he is very animated, rubbing his face and gesturing a lot. There is little contemplation, his rage externalised in his physical movement, and as a result, the emotion of some of the speeches starts to get lost.
Tenderness comes from other characters. After Hamlet is violent towards Ophelia (Mirren Mack), Claudius checks on her, as well as her father. When Niamh Cusack’s Gertrude describes her death it is quietly moving, the words underscored by black and white footage projected onto the set. In contrast, the tragedy of Hamlet’s death feels undermined by the lack of friendship and kindliness on display.
This is a lean, mean Hamlet; it’s angry, fast and Howle is frantic mad, but it just made me crave the quieter, lucid moments.
It’s getting ⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me.
Hamlet, Bristol Old Vic Theatre (recorded live)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Haider
Starring Billy Howle, Niamh Cusack, Mirren Mack and Finbar Lynch
Running time 2 and a half hours, including an interval.
In 250 cinemas around the UK on 6 April.
London cinemas screening the film include Curzon Wimbledon & Victoria, Crouch End Arthouse, Empire Walthamstow, Odeon Covent Garden, Picturehouse Clapham, Finsbury Park, Fulham & Greenwich, Hammersmith Riverside, VUE Finchley Road, Islington and Westfield (White City & Stratford).
BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half, booking until 29 April
Further Than The Furthest Thing, Young Vic ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 25 April
Phaedra, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️ for the staging ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for the play and performances booking until 8 April.
A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half; transferring to the West End on 20 March.
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