Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Following on from a critically successful production of Hamlet in 2016, the Royal Shakespeare Company opens their 2018 tour of the play at The Lowry, bringing forth the return of Paapa Essiedu as the eponymous character and a vibrant reinterpretation of one of the Bard’s most renowned tragedies.
The five-act play – following Hamlet’s efforts to avenge the late King of Denmark (portrayed by Ewart James Walters) by murdering his usurping uncle Claudius (Clarence Smith) – finds itself in a contemporary setting through Simon Goodwin’s thoughtful direction. Despite the prevalence of modern clothing and objects, the play retains its originality by conforming to the prosody of Shakespeare’s text – enabling Goodwin to punctuate the plight inherent in Ophelia’s (Mimi Ndiweni) verse and the comic moments of the Gravedigger’s (also played by Walters) prose.
Though the mournful dénouement stands out in the performance, the juxtaposition elicited through the liveliness of the percussive and woodwind instruments (directed by Phil James) that recurs throughout the scenes, guarantees the construction of a rounded theatrical experience for the audience. The director ensures that the expanse of the stage is effectively utilised, with the growing emotional distance present between Hamlet and the other characters, often being symbolised through their physical distance on stage.
The protagonist’s soliloquies are executed with significant flair throughout. The hesitation of Hamlet’s question ‘to be, or not to be’ is casually expressed in a vein counter to the often melodramatic approach taken by other actors – epitomising Essiedu’s unique take on the role. An emphasis is subsequently placed upon this hesitation, with the climax depicting Hamlet holding a gun to his uncle’s head, serving as a powerful cliff-hanger that precedes the interval of the play.
The visual aesthetic of the production is never compromised: elaborate set designs ranging from the King’s materialistic court to the minimalistic graveyard are skillfully crafted by Paul Wills, thereby illustrating a world both mesmerising and frightening. Kev McCurdy’s work as Fight Director deserves equal praise, with the fight between Hamlet and Laertes (Buom Tihngang) instigating the suspense that lasts until the curtain fall.
For any production of Shakespeare’s plays, performance is key. This production, however, not only boasts engaging performances but situates them in a dynamic theatrical setting –enabling the entire cast and crew to assert this show as a compelling production that reflects the virtues of the theatre.