Hamlet

The Lowry, Salford; Tuesday 30th January, 2018

Hamlet
Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

 

Murder, supernatural visitations, and a thirst for revenge. Hamlet must rank as one of the most well known and most often performed of all Shakespeare’s works – a play sitting deep in the very foundations of English culture given the number of classic one-liners from the script that have become a standard part of common-use English language.

Created by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this particular production was first performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2016. However, 2018 sees it go on tour for the first time, beginning with a week of performances at Salford’s Lowry Theatre.

Director Simon Godwin worked with lead performer Paapa Essiedu to conceive the idea of fusing two emphatically differing cultures in order to deliver a fresh interpretation of a play that is four centuries old.

As you might expect from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the performance retains most of the traditional foundations of the original play: it is still set in Denmark; it still depicts the original plotline; the words are mostly delivered in the olde English Shakespearian lingo that we were all baffled by at school.

But then rendered on top of all that is an unmistakably exotic African influence: nearly all the performers are black, the set (which is excellent) seems to show the interior of some grand African palace, everyone seems to be (literally) dancing to the beat of traditional African drums.

Hamlet is a perfectly safe and steady theatrical classic. There is no doubt that this particular rendition will do very well as it goes off on tour across the UK and onwards to America. But from a performing arts point of view I’d have loved to have seen the shackles of tradition taken off – this should have been an all-out Afro-theatrical extravaganza. It feels like it’s more than half way there with the set, the cast, and the music; but then the use of olde language and adherence to Anglo-Danish political skullduggery drag it back to conformity, almost as if the RSC maybe felt they had to keep it pinned down in this way.

From a performance and delivery point of view, there can be no complaint about Hamlet. But from the point of view of concept and design, it feels as if Godwin and Essiedu have simply retreated to the safety of what they both know well – which is frustrating as it seems they might have been on to something.

Summary

Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure Stunning set and lighting, elegant costumes used throughout. Beautiful to look at. 5
Auditory pleasure Charming use of live instruments to punctuate the moody and atmospheric backing music. Suffers from the same affliction as all other Shakespeare performances: the spoken words are just so hard to keep up with. 3
Architecture & Theme The original five acts are here crafted into a performance of two halves – but they’re too long: the first lasted almost 1hr 45 mins. This is a 400-year-old play, it’s been seen many times before, nothing particularly new was offered here other than the visuals and music of an African theme. 2
Artistic delivery Powerful, compelling performances from all the leading actors. The live music was also excellent. 4
Overall impact Overall a good show, though a little too long to be described as fun. This is Shakespeare exactly as you already know it, just dressed up slightly differently this time. 3
Final Score: 3.4

 

Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

 

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