Review Round-Ups

Verdicts in on Maxine Peake's Hamlet

Sarah Frankcom’s gender bending retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy opened at the Royal Exchange to a mixed bag of reviews

'Subtle and knowing' - Maxine Peake as Hamlet
'Subtle and knowing' – Maxine Peake as Hamlet
© Jonathan Keenan

Glenn Meads

Maxine Peake does what you would expect – deliver a subtle and knowing performance and also manages to give the character a fresh feel which goes way beyond gender… She also proves to be a credible fighter/lover and this fine actress has energy to burn… Barbara Marten's Gertrude… is majestic, yet scared for the future and her scenes with Peake have real fire… Worth seeing for Peake and Bevan alone but the omission of much of the political machinations mean that it lacks the thrills and dogged determination of previous productions.

Michael Billington

This is a fine performance that confirms Peake's capacity for emotional directness and a fierce, uncensored honesty… My main reservation concerns the excision of almost all the play's political context… In the end, it is a mixed production that, even at three-and-a-half hours, omits a good deal. What it gives us, however, is an excellent Hamlet by Peake that proves the character has the miraculous ability to take on the colour, style and personality of whoever is lucky enough to perform it.

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

What a piece of work is Manchester’s fabulous, feminised production of Hamlet… Intimate and intense, Sarah Frankcom‘s modern-dress productions has far more up its sleeve than just a searing star turn… What’s just as remarkable, though, is that this is a genuine ensemble triumph… It truly grips… Without straining for shock value, without raising their voices unduly, Peake and company make this 400-year-old revenge tragedy come alive in a way you’ve never quite seen before.

Paul Vallely


We are not used to seeing a woman play Hamlet. The result here is a powerful and yet curiously domestic production. Peake brings to it all her characteristic direct emotional ferocity and commitment… Claire Benedict was a commanding Player King and Michelle Butterly had a swaggering Scouse impertinence as the Gravedigger… Director Sarah Frankcom plays with the lines in ways which often make them seem fresh-minted and funny. … overall this Hamlet is compelling.

Dominic Cavendish
Daily Telegraph

Maxine Peake has star quality, no question… Peake is unafraid to make a fool of herself – pulling faces, twinkling with madcap mischief – while her swordsmanship has a Flynn-like flair… The supporting cast turn in some wildly varying performances… Gillian Bevan’s 'Polonia' is a power-dressed, matriarchal fusspot, lacking the usual bumbling, comedic charm… They haven’t failed miserably but this isn’t quite the triumph one had hoped for. It’s Hamlet in-the-round but not a Hamlet that’s fully rounded.

Hamlet is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 25 October 2014