There were many things I liked about the new production of Hamlet, at the Almeida theatre, starring Andrew Scott. Unfortunately, Andrew Scott wasn’t one of them. I found his Hamlet just too shouty, and ultimately not very sympathetic. There were elements which were good, with his clear grief done well at the beginning. Some of his soliloquies were delivered in a conversational tone. But then it just became too much, with not enough contrast between his ‘antic disposition’ and the norm. I had the sense there was a very good Hamlet in him, but it was just a bit overpowering at present. This was still a preview night, so perhaps it will settle down. In a four-hour production, his vocal volume must have been exhausting for him; it certainly was for me.
Yet even in a play which is so dominated by this character, there were many stronger things. It was a fully contemporary production, in modern dress and with guns rather than swords. The supporting cast was generally excellent. Juliet Stevenson was a very good Gertrude, moving from newly wedded bliss to a dawning realisation of Claudius’s crimes and manipulations. Angus Wright, who I’d previously seen as Agamemnon in director Robert Icke’s Oresteia, was a strong Claudius, more reserved and statesman-like than he is sometimes played. Polonius, Ophelia, and the Ghost were all well done. Switching Guidenstern to a female role, played by Amaka Okafor, gave a different sense to Hamlet’s attachment to his old friends. Of the other key roles, perhaps only Horatio was a little disappointing.
My favourite thing about the production was the use of film. Initially this showed documentary footage of King Hamlet’s funeral, in a news style reporting with Danish subtitles. It then switched to the night watch observing surveillance cameras on multiple screens. The initial engagements with the ghost were over an intercom. The scenes with Fortinbras was also done through film, with the character never actually appearing on stage, but sending video messages and being interviewed on camera. It certainly made the Norwegian army seem more convincing, with footage of troop and artillery manoeuvres. The Mousetrap was done well with an on-stage camera capturing the audience of Claudius and his court on screen. I was less sure about the use of Bob Dylan songs; and the ending was a bit muddled, with the dead characters walking backwards to join the already dead Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the back of the stage.
Overall this was worth seeing, and I don’t feel that four hours is, in itself, too long. This is a long play, after all, and I was pleased that there were not some of the severe cuts some productions have. Two intervals might be rethought – there is a slightly strange one when Claudius walks out of The Mousetrap, which needed a member of theatre staff to announce the break, and then one only about half an hour later when Hamlet passes the Norwegian army on his way to England. Press night is Monday, so perhaps more will be reworked over the weekend: initial reports and a cancelled first night suggest there have been some changes already.
Just for contrast, there are much more positive reviews here and here. And for my takes on some previous productions, see these posts – Peter Sarsgaard in New York; Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican; and on three productions and three texts.