My month in theatre has been distinctly Danish in flavour.
First, I went to the Old Vic to watch Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead, starring the surprisingly dynamic pairing of Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. It was an extremely enjoyable revival, with McGuire’s sparky wit anchored by Radcliffe’s slightly morose absurdity. Sadly I was too busy to write a full review, but consider this my positive recommendation.
Then, earlier this week, I took my seat in the back row of the Almeida for a highly-anticipated performance of Hamlet.
It’s rare to have the chance to see such high quality productions of these two texts so close together. Yet, watching Stoppard’s spin-off beforehand not only gave me greater sympathy for the pairing in Shakespeare’s original play but also prepared me for the onslaught of tragedy to come, like a tantalising starter before the showstopper emerges from the kitchen.
It turns out that the prospect of Andrew Scott + Robert Icke + Shakespeare is an irresistible combination for the theatre-going crowd. Getting tickets for this Hamlet was on the same level of difficulty as The Cursed Child and Hamilton, only beaten by the upcoming Angels in America (I’m still bitter about missing out on that show).
I took my seat feeling apprehensive about the 3.45 hours of verse to come (yup – two intervals and all). Yet the minutes whipped along and I found myself at the final act without once fighting the urge to check the time – a feat that many shorter productions don’t achieve.
In the title role, Andrew Scott speaks Shakespeare’s prose with a raw, lilting freshness that’s both bewitching and unsettling. He searches gently for particular words, and places his phrasing with light but steely deliberateness, switching from flashing rage to ironic self-awareness on a knife’s edge.
He is supported by a talented cast. Juliet Stevenson show Gertrude as genuinely suffering alongside her son, her maternal instincts warring with her lust for her new husband, who is played by Angus Wright with all the bleak smoothness of the typical politician – his implacable facade made my blood run cold.
Jessica Brown Findlay threatens to be a weak link at first, but comes into her own during Ophelia’s madness scene, playing the part with a desperation and vulnerability that makes her downward spiral truly painful to witness.
Icke and the team have made some clever production choices which give the play a modern, visceral quality. This Denmark is a cold, contemporary world, with sliding glass doors, security at every turn and constant surveillance footage, which is used intelligently and to great effect throughout (it was the first time I’ve ever been properly jumpy during the ghost scene).
As Hamlet transfers to the West End next month, the hope is that Sherlock fans will jump at the chance to see Moriarty in the flesh – but, for once, the celebrity appeal is not undeserved. The production is strong overall but it’s Scott’s painfully human Hamlet that we’ll remember in years to come.
Hamlet is at the Almeida until 15th April, and transfers to the Harold Pinter Theatre from 9th June.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead runs at the Old Vic until 6th May.