Mr Monkey sees Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre
Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 11th September 2014
End date : 25th October 2014
Visit date : 16th September, 2014
Mr Monkey took the bus into Manchester and scurried along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Hamlet.
Written sometime between 1599 and 1602, Hamlet (or, more formally, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark), is possibly Shakespeare's most famous play.
Hamlet, son of the king of Denmark, is a bit upset when his father dies and his uncle, Claudius, not only takes the crown himself, but marries Hamlet's mother at the same time. Reliably informed that his father was actually murdered, Hamlet decides to get revenge by pretending to be mad. This cunning ploy is so successful that by the end of the play more or less the entire Danish court has been drowned, stabbed, poisoned or executed by the English.
The script for this production is based on the version used by Jude Law on Broadway, which omits the sub-plot involving Claudius' diplomatic avoidance of a Norwegian invasion. Mr Monkey thought this was a bit of a shame, as it left Claudius as a monster throughout.
For this production Hamlet is played by Maxine Peake, though the character is still male. This has caused some controversy, even though women have been playing Hamlet off and on since at least 1770 (that was Sarah Siddons, in Manchester). Some other characters - notably Polonius - have had their gender switched. None of this has, to Mr Monkey anyway, any effect on the action or feel of the play.
The stage is bare with furniture rolled on and off as necessary. A splendid effect using a horde of lightbulbs which, accompanied by a noise like radio static, descend from above annouces the imminent appearance of the old king's ghost. All the costumes are more or less modern.
Any production of Hamlet depends very heavily on the quality of the actor playing Hamlet. Maxine Peake is excellent. She's not a particularly likeable Hamlet, especially when she's anywhere near Ophelia, but Mr Monkey never has much cared for Hamlet himself.
The rest of the cast are terrific, too,. Katie West is marvellous as Ophelia, understated at first but with a brilliantly effective mad scene, which also brings out a new, more caring, side to Barbara Marten's Gertrude. Claudius is well played by John Shrapnel, but is reduced to a fairly one dimensional character by the absence of the Fortinbras subplot.
Jodie McNee and Peter Singh play Rosencrantz and Gildenstern very well, so much that Mr Monkey felt sorry for them, possibly for the first time ever.
Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed this production of Hamlet, and recommends it to anyone who thinks actors should be chosen by talent, not gender.
Hamlet runs until 25th October 2014.
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