I’ve seen Hamlet four times. I studied it for A level, it’s a text on my degree and through one thing and another I’ve seen it four times with Hamlet being played by: David Tennant, Kenneth Branagh, Benedict Cumberbatch and this week, and Paapa Essiedu.
Weirdly I planned to go to this production during my A levels, but the performance in Stratford-Upon-Avon was cancelled last minute and so I thought I’d missed my chance, then the English department at University offered free tickets to see it at the Northern Stage.
This Hamlet was so different to the other versions I had seen, it was bright, it was colourful, it was modern and fun. The characters felt very familiar with each other, and the whole performance ran like a well-oiled machine. As well as it being modern, it was also interesting to see the characters played in such different ways to their counterparts in other productions, especially Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I think for a lot of people seeing these characters played as cool, young individuals would make Hamlet seem more relatable but I found it a bit jarring at times.
Some critics have argued that the characters in this production were really likeable, in fact Michael Billington in the Guardian described Essiedu’s Hamlet as ‘intensely likeable’. Whilst this was true at times, I cannot say that I liked these characters more than those in other productions (especially the Branagh and Cumberbatch versions). I found a few scenes also just really uncomfortable – the scene where Hamlet effectively harasses Ophelia, and the scene where Ophelia pulls her hair out – the hair literally stayed on the stage for the whole rest of the play, something which really bothered me.
So there were things I didn’t like, but as a literature student I feel I should think about why the director may have made these choices. For one, the predominately black ensemble and the transposition of Hamlet into a different culture made me appreciate Shakespeare even more – the story is ambiguous enough that directorial decisions can drastically change the play, but also make it modern, and make it fresh, as well as relatable to all different kinds of people. Perhaps the uncomfortable scenes were meant to be so uncomfortable to make you think, and to make you remember.
I would love to know what you think about the performance. I’d recommend going to see it, it’s on tour at the moment so see if it is coming to a theatre near you!
Have a wonderful week,
Picture 1: RSC: https://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/tour-dates-and-venues
Pictures 2, 3 & 4: RSC: https://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/production-photos#&gid=1&pid=15