Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Opened 2 May, 2001; reviewed September, 2001

*** And lucky to get that third star, if the truth be told

Without the strong central performance by Samuel West, this would be a severe disappointment; as it is, it's only a mild one.

As a director, Steven Pimlott has a tendency towards the gimmicky; the touches and devices he incorporates are usually well thought-out, but that doesn't stop them being gimmicks. Here, then, we see things like the melancholy prince sharing a joint with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and later playing rugger with the skull of poor Yorick. Then there are the obviously too heavy-handed touches: when Hamlet speaks of art holding "a mirror up to nature", the house lights go up, and he and the players gaze at the audience for several seconds; during the play-within-a-play itself, he catches Claudius's and Gertrude's guilty looks on a camcorder.

As I have said before, it is West's talent of always making one fall a little in love with his character which salvages the production. Kerry Condon's Ophelia has a waif-like allure also, but fails to make much of a mark. As her father Polonius, Alan David gives him the most unsympathetic character I can ever recall seeing. Larry Lamb and Marty Cruickshank are oddly anodyne as Claudius and Gertrude. West is always well worth watching, but I am afraid that there is not much else in these four hours that is.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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