“Aargh!!” Screams Andrew Scott’s distraught Hamlet. I shared his frustration. Sometimes there are no words to verbalise, express or explain profound emotion, not even from Shakespeare.
Scott, TV’s deranged Sherlock villain, Moriarty, is the latest actor to take on this epic Scandi Shakespeare in a new, modern dress production at North London’s Almeida Theatre.
But this is an overly tricksy Hamlet with director Robert Icke going for a tense, pacy, action thriller style that uses CCTV, newsreels and spy kits, plus background music courtesy of the wailing Bob Dylan (I’m not a fan).
And he plays out the tragedy on a trendy, uber smart set that wouldn’t look out of place in any of Islington’s posh champagne socialist enclaves.
He has also created a bit of a weak, drippy, right-on, emotional metrosexual protagonist, who wears his heart on his sleeve, isn’t afraid to cry, and appears more vulnerable than I’ve ever seen him.
Theatre critics are incredibly spoiled. Over the years we will have seen umpteen productions of Hamlet, with some of theatre’s finest actors giving their best.
In the timeline of a Shakespearean actor – or any serious actor’s career – you go from the young, impetuous Romeo, to Hamlet and possibly Prince Hal, before ending, in your dotage, with Lear.
I’ve seen the bizarre and ambitious, inspired and inventive (Hiraeth Artistic Productions’ 2014 Hamlet at the Hammersmith Riverside Studios, set among violent lags in a top security Liverpool jail, still stands out).
Do you put in the Oedipus rape scene? Modern dress or not? And Hamlet? Insane, weepy, furious? So many facets of one disturbed young man to plunder.
So, speaking as someone who has seen more than her fair share of Hamlets, I must say that I was rather disappointed in this latest, rather insipid and lack-lustre, Almeida production, which has so thrilled some critics while leaving others, me included, unimpressed.
You can’t complain about the length (four hours) because, you know, Hamlet is long, no getting away from it. But Icke not only attempts to be overly clever with the style and substance but he also plays around with its two intervals.
In this theatre, they are called “Pauses” with the first seeing the cast freeze – mid-scene, almost mid-sentence, and for what actor Matthew Wynn, in mid stride, must seem an eternity – until a flunkie comes on to announce a 15-minute break, and he is given the nod to scoot off stage for a quick cup of tea.
Hamlet opens with the royal security detail picking up the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father (David Rintoul) on their bank of camera screens (or Kamera screens as all the captions are in, what is, I assume, Danish).
Scott is fast becoming the go-to guy to play emotionally damaged characters and he doesn’t disappoint, here summoning a very weepy young prince who is consumed by grief.
His eyes are red and the actor looks like he hasn’t slept for a week to get into character. He does a very good distraught, snivelling and blubbing, while crying out in anger and rage. Occasionally he clenches his fists before howling out a line through gritted teeth.
But it does seem a little one dimensional and lightweight.
After vowing revenge Hamlet picks up a pistol and, I couldn’t help thinking, if he’d only gone and immediately shot his uncle, the new king (the rangy Angus Wright,) then the audience would have been saved three-and-a-half hours of prevarication.
But no. We have to be put through the emotional wringer with Hamlet’s faux descent into madness, closely followed by Ophelia’s breakdown, multiple deaths and a surprisingly subdued denouement.
Perhaps it was where I was sitting, but I couldn’t understand a word spoken (mumbled) by Jessica Brown Findlay’s Ophelia, possibly a result of her limited stage training and experience.
Icke opts for a very naturalistic delivery from his ensemble and it’s a huge success.
For most of the cast this seems to be interpreted as gabble your lines quickly, don’t enunciate and forget that some of the audience are sitting right at the back of the theatre and need to hear the dialogue.
But the naturalism works well for Hamlet’s big speeches with Andrew Scott delivering them as readily and casually as if he was chatting to friends over a latte.
Angus Wright’s Claudius is, under Icke’s direction, the subtlest of stage villains, more content to snog his lovely new wife (Juliet Stevenson) than defend himself against Hamlet, though Peter Wight is compelling both as the blustering Polonius and a caring father figure.
Luke Thompson’s hot-headed Laertes, the tail end of a tattoo escaping from under his shirt to threaten the neck, is full of the necessary outrage as a fellow son mourning the loss of a beloved father, but the character isn’t given enough stage time by either his creator or director.
Both Thompson and Scott finish their dispute on the fencing strip and it’s well-staged although the outcome isn’t given enough strength or vigour.
This is very much a Hamlet for the Islington crowd. It wouldn’t travel further.
Playing at the Almeida until April 15.
TV villain Andrew Scott presents a weak, one-dimensional and tearful Hamlet, in a tricksy modern-dress Almeida Theatre production of the Scandi-Shakespeare.