King Lear has overtaken Hamlet as the most performed of the Bard’s work, but this outstanding production shows the Danish prince is still king.
This Hamlet resides in a world of 24-hour news and high-tech surveillance equipment, with these modern conceits so cleverly interwoven into the text that, were you watching his story for the first time, you might wonder how Shakespeare had the prescience to have Horatio address the ghost of the dead king through a CCTV monitor, or have Polonius wear a wire tap.
There are some brilliant stylistic flourishes by director Robert Icke, such as when, in the dramatic finale of the first third (there are two intervals, the first after an hour and 45 minutes; no wonder they were handing out coffee on press night), Hamlet films the audience during the play-within-a-play, beaming the footage live behind the stage so we can see both the action and murderous Claudius’ reaction.
Andrew Scott – most recognisable as Moriarty from Sherlock – is an excellent Hamlet; brooding, twitchy, almost certainly bipolar, prone to spontaneous, infantile rage, yet also darkly charming. Recent Hamlets have included fellow Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch and the superlative Rory Kinnear; Scott is the equal of both.
It’s not a perfect play – Icke has a strange obsession with Bob Dylan, and the soundtrack often distracts from the action. Pre-recorded segments – usually news footage – lack the quality of the live performances, and the climactic fencing bout sits uneasily with this introspective, 21st century Hamlet. But a fabulous performance by a huge talent makes those mis-steps easy to overlook, and the four hours fly by as quickly as the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.