It feels very Alan Partridge to say that Hamlet is your favourite play (“I’d have to say: The Best of The Beatles”), but until I see something that takes its place… there we are, I’m afraid.
I love its moral and psychological complexity – even that which we no doubt impose on it with modern eyes – the way it brings together raw emotion and realpolitik, and its clever, mercurial, sometimes rather ridiculous hero who is so torn up by thought. It’s no surprise that Doctor Whos and could-, or would-be Doctors from David Tennant to Maxine Peake are regularly called on to take the role – there’s another character who agonises over the consequences of action and inaction.
Among that roster you could surely count Andrew Scott, who’s currently taking the lead in a modern dress production at the Almeida. His is a particularly expressive Prince, who cries openly in front of his family and friends, and whose soliloquies are usually quiet and reflective. Whereas Tennant’s Hamlet embraced insanity, becoming in the process a bigger, more outrageous version of himself, Scott’s version remains, throughout the play, weighed down by grief; much more sad than mad.
He only really comes to life when addressing the players – his blazer’s black sleeves pushed up like an off-Broadway director – and he has a sharp tongue at times. He is occasionally enlivened by his own wit and sarcasm, but is soon berating himself again for failing to put any of his good words to good use. It is, unsurprisingly, a fine and heart-rending performance.
I also particularly liked Angus Wright as Claudius – he’s this Hamlet’s direct antithesis, showing passion but no real emotion – and Jessica Brown Findlay is a very modern-feeling Ophelia; the mad scene is delivered with straightforward pain, anger and sadness.
At 3 hours and 50 minutes this is a long production, and with the inclusion of some Dylan tracks, sometimes rather slowly paced – but all that matches Scott’s particularly contemplative Hamlet, and it is time very well spent.