HAMLET
Olivier Theatre, London SE1
Opened 11 June, 2001

**** Still cogitating

John Caird's production has moved through the other two National Theatre spaces into the biggest. It's worth it.

Simon Russell Beale is perhaps the most intelligent classical actor of his generation, not just in terms of thinking about his character but also of showing what that character is himself thinking. He is therefore a natural in the role of Hamlet, even though physically he is hardly the pale, haggard figure one associates with the melancholy prince. Here, therefore, we see him on the one hand physically groping in the air at several points for le mot juste, on the other engaging in grim ventriloquism with the skull of Yorick.

Director Caird excises the political element from the play (no sign of Fortinbras and the Norwegian wars), and plays the religious strain quite heavily, with a cathedral-like set on which, in contrast, most of the actual props are provided by piles of luggage.  He often loses the edge which the play's events should constantly show: Peter McEnery's Claudius, for instance, seems genuinely concerned for Hamlet, and Cathryn Bradshaw's Opehelia, though I cannot think why, reminds me bizarrely of a sock puppet. But it is the central performance by Beale thoughtful, witty, compelling which sustains the entire evening.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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