Hamlet (RSC)

5
The RSC's Hamlet at the Albery Theatre:
By Gene
The opening by RSC play for the six month season at the Albery needed to be something special. As the audience arrived there was a great sense of expectation on the place, the production and, of course, the actors. What was delivered was nothing short of spectacular. Within a simple, yet imposing set Michael Boyd (Director) made the words count. There were no special tricks to hide the play behind. The play was out front and totally stripped bare of theatrical trappings. This kind of physical exposure of actor and character gave the production a raw and unnerving edge to it as the Kingdom and the tragic lives of those who lived therein collapsed in a downward spiral of deceit and despair.

All that said, this production did have a few laughs. Richard Cordery as Polonius gave a hard faced and dry-witted performance that was fed from his use of aside and comic timing in the, sometimes, most serious moments. This was a very studied and manful performance. The Ghost, the Player King and the Grave Digger were all played by the amazing Greg Hicks. An ever-present presence haunted the stage with a stillness and control evocative of a Greek Tragedy. Hicks, snake-like, mounted the stage and one could not take one’s eyes off this stealth figure as he owned the stage. It is no wonder Francisco and Bernardo were scared. I was! The brilliant use of Greg Hicks in all three roles made King Hamlet’s ghost more than an echo of something that was. In this way, the old king was possessing other people in a bid for revenge and communication to his son Hamlet. Hamlet, in turn, trusted and confided in these figures and he fought between madness, loyalty, love and revenge.

Toby Stephens was a sensation. There is not much more to say. This is the Hamlet for the 21st Century – without a doubt. Within a camp madness came a sensitivity that grabbed the heart and pulled gently on it for nearly three hours. Stephens’ Hamlet was delivered with a feigned superficiality that left me feeling desperately moved for the inner turmoil that was in his heart and in his head. When Hamlet was at Ophelia’s graveside, he threw away all mock madness and hate, to admit his love for the dead Ophelia. This window into the soul of Toby Stephens’ Hamlet gave a clue to all the questions scholars have asked for years about the mental state of the young prince. It is my belief that this was a Hamlet who was acting mad; as the admission of love came from the soul of a desperate and broken man who has now lost everything that was dear to him. In the drop of Hamlet’s guard did we see the broken man that existed within this steel exterior. I would implore anyone to go and see this production. Not only for the stunning design by Tom Piper, evocative lighting by Vince Herbert that was beautifully underscored by the moody and chilling sound, compose by John Woolf, but also everyone needs to see the New Prince of Denmark. No longer a petulant tick with a score to settle, but a man with a heart and a soul who holds an audience in the very palm of his hand – that is, of course, the Hamlet created by the stunning and crafted performance of Toby Stephens.

Gene David Kirk


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