Reviews on these pages are meant primarily to recommend or to warn off potential theatregoers, and in this case whatever I say will make no difference – the show was completely sold out long before it opened, on the strength of culture-hunk Alan Rickman in the name part. Which may be as well, because it's not actually very wonderful at all.
Georgian director Robert Sturua was one of producer Thelma Holt's eye-opening cultural imports over a decade ago, but he fails to invest this play with freshness or energy; the flatness is exacerbated by extensive but clumsy use of a T-shaped stage gallery and a sound score that could be jettisoned wholesale without injuring the production.
Rickman gives a competent but uninspired reading as the Prince: moderately, not corrosively, sardonic and seldom overwrought either in his agonies of thought or fiery bursts of action. The other principals, however, fall well short of the mark: Geraldine McEwan's Gertrude is irritatingly mimsy, Michael Byrne's Polonius begins shrewdly but loses his way, and Adrian Rawlins' Laertes wants to be Gerard Murphy.
After the one interval (late, at the two-hour mark), Sturua's erratic cutting leads to an unsettling scramble towards the most terse duel I've ever seen: blink and you miss Gertrude's poisoning, Hamlet's fatal wounding and Laertes' suicide – suicide? Nobody realistically expects a major revelatory Hamlet these days, but we still have that nagging hope; and from a team of such pedigree, this is a sadly underwhelming experience.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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