Dir: Ian Rickson
Young Vic Theatre - October 10th 2011 – January 21st 2012
For many, Shakespeare is considered to be dull and tedious drivel, seeing it as a group of people speaking a collection of words that nobody can comprehend. To those people I would like to get a large pencil and cram it up each of their noses, whilst telling them that they are wrong and that a performance of one of Shakespeare’s sensational plays is an absolute must see experience. To those who love Shakespeare, the most recent production of Hamlet hit theatres in October 2011, and I was one of the fortunate who was able to get tickets. Starring Michael Sheen as the young prince of Denmark, the play tells the story of how Hamlet, upon discovering the true nature of his father’s death, contemplates revenge against those responsible for his demise whilst considering the consequence of his actions if he is to carry them out.
Being the popular play that it is, every production of Hamlet has been required to seem unique in order to make it stand out from the many adaptations that have gone before it. Ian Rickson’s adaptation is set in an asylum, which is very fitting for the plays theme of sanity and the appearance madness. The play begins with an optional walkthrough backstage, where the audience can see surveillance cameras recording the actions of inmates playing games, as well as patient drawing and medical staff going about their work. The play begins with the audience being locked in the theatre, as vast metal door gently close us all in. It is very tongue in cheek; however it did set up the play very well, making it evident that this production is unlike any adaptation we have seen before. For me I really enjoyed Rickson’s vision; however it is easy to see how those who are unfamiliar with the play would be lost and confused by all the set dressing. That is the danger of updating Shakespeare, it often appeals to those who are already fans, but for those who are experiencing it for the first time, they may feel alienated or, like the woman who sat next to me, sleepy. There are amazing performances from Vinette Robinson (Sherlock BBC) as Ophelia and James Clyde (New Tricks BBC) as Claudius, but the star of the show is without a doubt Michael Sheen. His presence and diction on stage are just sublime, and the manner in which he addresses the audience ranges from tragic to hilarious. I was exhausted for him as he bound around the stage speaking not only the lines of Hamlet but of his father as well, it was truly an incredible performance. I can be honoured to say that during one scene during a soliloquy a drop of saliva landed on my trouser leg, I suppose that is a perk of being in the front row!
I personally loved the production, and thought that the settings, costume design and the acting were all brilliantly implemented into a familiar play that was made new again. There was even a surprise twist at the end that I still have not worked out, or maybe I am just a little bit stupid. However overall I feel that this was a play for fans of the original that may enjoy spotting the contemporary changes and updates, but for those who are unaware of the original, I feel that they may be overwhelmed by the whole spectacle and would feel happier watching a West End show. Overall the play was remarkable with incredible acting and pacing, and establishes Michael Sheen as one of the finest actors around.