A brilliant production at the Harold Pinter theatre in London starring Andrew Scott. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket!
“Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is at pains to remind us that at the theatre we spy on ourselves”, was the verdict by the Guardian’s Kate Kellaway.
Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play and one that’s been on my list to either read or see on the London stage for decades now. King Lear and Julius Caesar were required reading in school and so I was familiar with both up to A level stage but Hamlet was the elusive one…till now, and boy does it deliver.
This London production directed by Robert Icke is a masterpiece and Andrew Scott who plays the lead in his soft Irish accent is a revelation. It takes a great actor to carry it off with aplomb because the soliloquies come fast and furious. The mind boggles at an actor’s ability to recall such a vast number of lines but Scott delivers them in a fresh contemporary, almost conversational style, not the pompous stilted rendition of the great actors of an earlier era (my RSC Shakespeare Complete Works attributes 341 speeches to Hamlet but presumably that varies with stage productions). Emotions run high throughout and Hamlet’s mood swings from disconsolate despair at his mother’s betrayal of his father to comedic moments with almost farcical effect.
Andrew Scott is a familiar face to Sherlock fans as he plays Moriarty in the most recent outing but he also featured in the last James Bond film, Sceptre, and has a long list of stage, film and television roles. Jessica Brown Findlay’s depiction of a distraught Ophelia is heart rending after the loss of her beloved father and her betrothed in all but name, in quick succession.
This modern Icke production is devoid of magnificent Elizabethan costumes, just modern casual clothing here but the more striking additions are the CCTV screens and the Bob Dylan music, oh yes. Towards the end it felt almost harrowing, the tragedy of Hamlet’s dilemma, his hesitant response in fulfilling the vengeful command of his father’s ephemeral ghost. Bear in mind that Hamlet is not a man of action but a deep and thoughtful intellectual young man, he is torn by his great love of his father and is now grief stricken not just by his loss but because it is evident that his father was murdered by the King’s brother and Hamlet’s mother was an accomplice. The enemy is Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and now step-father too, this new King who has seduced and married Hamlet’s mother with indecent haste, i.e. two months. Derbhle Crotty plays Queen Gertrude as a torn and bewildered mother with a barely perceptible Irish accent.
King Claudius is played by Angus Wright who I last saw as O’Brien in a recent London production of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and he is a marvel to watch with his calm, chilling, sinister edge which almost certainly shifted my blood pressure reading a notch or two on each appearance. At this point, I might add that I do watch more light-hearted theatre from time to time, honest.
Ultimately, we will all take away something from Hamlet and for me it was Shakespeare’s message that revenge may not be sweet after all. Humanity’s frailty in seeking vengeance may do more damage than was originally intended, wreaking havoc and dragging the innocent in its wake. Personally, when I feel that I have been wronged in some way and after a (mostly) fleeting desire for revenge on the perpetrator, I am more inclined to perhaps shift gear mentally to the Christian belief that retribution will come in time, albeit not at my hand. Admittedly in Hamlet’s case, it’s a big ask for a father to place this enormous filial burden on his son.
Clearly intrigued by this performance and oddly enough hungry for more a few days later I watched the highly acclaimed Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet and what a feast for the eyes it is, powerful and picturesque (it was filmed at Blenheim Palace near Oxford, the birthplace of Winston Churchill), it is no less harrowing than the stage production. Branagh (another Irishman) not only directs but takes the lead in this three and a half hour film and even if you are not a Shakespeare enthusiast, it’s worth seeing.
Obviously, if you are looking for a night of light entertainment in town, the Icke/Scott production is probably best avoided, however, at some stage in life it is certainly worth the time because of its great psychological spread and depth and it will stay in your mind for days/weeks afterwards.
How to Put Shakespeare to good use
Here are some of my favourite lines which I think contain great insight, wisdom or a truism together with some suggestions on how you might want to make use of them today either to shock or amuse or even outperform the competition when needs must.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
A good time to use this line: when your new girlfriend vehemently denies she’s been out with a former boyfriend and piles one explanation on top of another. An infamous political example, if you are old enough to remember, would be former President Bill Clinton denying his relationship with Monica Lewinsky when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. An appropriate response might be “the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks”. Politics today is littered with opportunities to use this phrase, in fact most days that the White House pronounces on something or other.
“Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
for loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
A good time to use this line: when a friend asks for a hefty loan but probably a bit excessive if it’s to pay for a late night pizza.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
A good time to use this line: around someone who likes the sound of their own voice just a tad tooooo much.
“I must be cruel only to be kind”.
A good time to use this line: to your teenage son when you’re trying to drag him out of bed to go to school after a late night out.
“Let me be cruel not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.”
A good time to use this line: the power of the spoken word used in anger can be nearly as damaging as a physical blow, so use with care when you have suffered a betrayal.
“Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners.”
A good time to use this line: on discovering that your girlfriend has been unfaithful.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep –
No more – and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep:
To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this moral coil,”
A good time to use this line: for some serious showing off at a family or social event but delivered in the Andrew Scott style, i.e., without pomposity preferably more conversational as though it’s the most natural thing to pop into your head.
Try it out, you never know a late blooming thespian may emerge from the ether and surprise everyone including yourself. Good luck.