Rory Kinnear deserves that Olivier on Sunday for his exceptional, human, hoodie-wearing Hamlet.
The National Theatre On Tour’s superb production portrays Hamlet as a typical mercurial youngster overwhelmed by the mounting pressures of dead father, tyrannical step-father, stymied studies, lost girlfriend, fickle friends and weak, alcoholic mother. His descent into despair, political madness and calculated subversive behaviour is made understandable by his excellent timing and nuances brought to even the well-worn soliloquies.
This is a fathomable young prince of the people Hamlet whose complex character is thrown open for all to see and understand (particularly those of us with close experience of teenagers).
Director Nicholas Hytner’s piece is set in a modern day police state under threat from neighbouring countries. There are jets overhead, patrolling armed guards and ear-pieced surveillance men everywhere. Big Brother is watching – whether that is the video cameras capturing the new King’s first speech, the TV crew following Fortinbras’ military advances, bugged Bibles or stealthy bodyguards lurking in dim corners. The sense of menace is palpable.
Vicki Mortimer’s simple but oppressive set and Jon Clark’s lighting enhances the mood. There is indeed something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Patrick Malahide is coldly calculating as the steely usurper Claudius, fittingly regal and paranoid while David Calder plays Polonius as a mixture of statesmanlike spymaster Q and bumbling father. Clare Higgins brings a fresh look at Gertrude playing her as a weak lush unable to stand alone. Tremendous.
There are too many other fine performances to mention individually but stand-out for me in an A class crowd are Giles Terera’s Horatio, Nick Sampson as Osric, and Ferdinand Kingsley and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Ruth Negga as Ophelia makes a good fist of the difficult madness scene (although I was a tad disappointed that Hytner hadn’t made something more of this – but that is perhaps a measure of the excellence of the rest) and I loved the implication that her drowning was no accident.
Running for a fast 3 hours 30 minutes (including a 20-minute interval) this is an absorbing, not to be missed production with little to fault.