Hamlet: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford on Avon – theatre review

Hamlet
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford on Avon
Directed by David Farr
March 14th-September 28th 2013

Louder Than War goes to the theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest, scintillating production of the genius that is the Bard’s Hamlet.

Hamlet is the role that a host of actors have interpreted in a range of ways over the years, but how many have approached it with the originality of the man director David Farr describes as one of the great classical actors of his generation? Jonathon Slinger’s portrayal of the grief-stricken, tormented Dane, riven by a desire for revenge that sits uncomfortably alongside his ever-present self-doubt, is one that holds the viewer transfixed for the duration of three and a half hours, the longest of all the Bard’s plays.


Photo © Keith Pattison

From the moment a bespectacled Slinger appears staring emptily through the stage exit door at the audience before the lights dim, it’s clear that this production will exceed expectations. With contemporary costumes, the dark events are played out on a stage set that is framed by soil and mud. Greg Hicks first appearance is as the Ghost but he also excels in the role of Claudius, Hamlet’s murderous uncle and now stepfather. There is a tangible atmosphere as these two principles spark off each other throughout the course of the play and Charlotte Cornwell is superb as Queen Gertrude, the woman who attempts to stand between them. The toxic mix of Hamlet’s love and contempt for his mother is palpable as Slinger leads us through the mental disintegration, be it feigned or genuine, of the tragic hero of the play.

It is this dilemma for the audience, the true extent of the mental decline of Hamlet, that is one of the central themes of the play and the area in which Slinger clearly revels. He veers from manic to morose to camp sarcasm and back with frightening rapidity and Polonius, played by the excellent Robin Soans, is often a perfect foil for these ‘ antics’. The intensity with which Jonathon Slinger takes us inside the psyche of Hamlet is often breath-taking and ensures that, as his character dithers and anguishes over the right course of action, so too does the audience. Whether it is a ruse to cover a potential act of revenge, manic depression or some other anxiety based disorder that afflicts Hamlet, Slinger ensures we can never be certain but remain engrossed waiting for that vital clue to the reality of his condition.

One of the set pieces of the production has to be when Hamlet verbally attacks his former love, the obedient Ophelia, brilliantly portrayed by Pippa Nixon. The spontaneous, yet brutal eruption has the audience spellbound as does Nixon’s subsequent descent into madness after Hamlet ‘accidentally’ kills her father. Another has to be the perfectly choreographed sword fight at the climax between Hamlet and Luke Norris’ outstanding Laertes. As each of the principles die in the final scene, we are left to reflect on the mixture of greed, loyalty, grief and indecision that has led to this tragic outcome. The cast are thoroughly deserving of the ovation that follows.

Director David Farr has managed to bring a fresh and invigorating spark to one of Shakespeare’s more performed plays and Jonathon Slinger surely gives one of his best performances in a role that demand he deliver over 40% of the lines. This is an outstanding production from the RSC and certainly worth a visit.

Hamlet is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, March 14th –September 28th 2013, then on tour
For further information, please visit http://www.rsc.org.uk/

All words by Dave Jennings. More work by Dave Jennings on Louder Than War can be found here.

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