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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Theatre - Hamlet - National Theatre

Star rating – 9/10

Any actor worth his salt has to have a bash at Hamlet – or so the general expectation seems to be. And these are certainly big shoes to fill. There have been many recent celebrated Hamlets, from Jude Law to David Tennant. And a production starring John Simm is also currently playing in Sheffield, so there is a lot of room here for comparison. My own previous Hamlet experience was seeing Christopher Eccleston play the role some years ago at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and as you might have expected he was fabulous.

But Rory Kinnear makes the famous role his own in this excellent production directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National. He is not a household name yet but I predict that his star will be very much in the ascendancy following this outstanding performance. It must be tricky as an actor knowing that a large proportion of the audience will know the play very well, and have their own expectations of how every line should be delivered. Kinnear plays the changing moods of Hamlet very well, from the humour, to the cruelty, the despair of losing his father in such terrible circumstances, to madness and the lust for revenge over his uncle the new King.

Hytner’s production is set in modern day, with Hamlet as a hoodie for some of the action. The staging of the play is brilliant, with the effective scene changes in Vicki Mortimer’s clever set design looking effortless but involving most of the cast at the same time.

At 3 hours 35 minutes this is not for the faint hearted. But it didn’t seem so long at all – in large part due to the ease of watching Kinnear glide through this epic performance. Mention must also be made of the two female parts, which are traditionally viewed as something of a poisoned chalice for actors. Ruth Negga was very moving as the tragic Ophelia, who literally went off her trolley by pushing a shipping trolley manically around the stage as she loses her grasp of reality. Clare Higgins is also great as Hamlet’s mother, the ill fated Gertude, who has unwittingly married her husband’s murderer.

This production really gets the point of the play, and cleverly uses light and shade in the form of humour with the darkness to illustrate it. And Kinnear deserves all the praise which he will surely get for the way he makes this plum role his own.

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