Great Dane

Rory Kinnear is a fantastic Hamlet, though (as he should) a good Polonius comes close to stealing the show…

At the National on Monday night for the highly-regarded production of Hamlet, with Rory Kinnear in the lead role. My favourite play is almost always a treat, but this was comfortably the best I’ve ever seen. The cast was almost uniformly good, though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were too affected and more-than-necessarily lightweight; before being dead, obviously.

Kinnear played the title role beautifully. In a neat contrast to so many productions, the (genuine) madness of anguish and existential doubt was entirely separated from the (false) Claudian ‘madness’ of self-preservation. This unpicking of the two strands makes a lot of sense to me, as several other interpretations I have seen flounder in attempts to explain away all the madness as method or vice versa. When frenetic wild-eyed lunacy seeps into every scene the play can become a wearing and unsympathetic experience.

David Calder is outstanding as Polonius – his timing and delivery were incredibly deft, and I feel the dialogue between he and Hamlet in the first half is what the play’s success fundamentally hinges upon. Clare Higgins is a bumptious, bibulous and delusional Gertrude, while Patrick Malahide’s Claudius teems with bright-eyed malignant turpitude. Ruth Negga made for a strong, determined (and more than usually reflective-of-Hamlet) Ophelia, while Alex Lanipekun was resolute and rather distant as Laertes.

The production values were of varying quality, since some of the overtly modern touches became a little distracting – the slightly ham-fisted integration of dance music, the constant presence of security personnel speaking into wrist mics, etc. – but on the whole, the vague mid-to-late-20th Century setting worked very well. The Ghost (James Laurenson) was not too spectral – I sometimes find those scenes daftly over-spooky, making them undesirably comic – and the idea of Laertes at the head of a decidedly Balkan-feeling militia was convincing.

I thoroughly recommend this production, not only for Kinnear’s excellent performance but also for the quality of the ensemble cast and the ambitious stage setting.

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Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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