There’s a heatwave in London, and Hamlet’s not coping.
Here’s the rundown: the palace is more penthouse, with a multi-purpose conservatory-like structure – sometimes a hallway, wardrobe, but mainly a recurring memory of Claudius and Gertrude’s wedding on the patio. Hamlet and Ophelia are an item, and Hamlet is drowning in a grief-stricken psychosis over the King’s death, but not mad.
Is the prince mad, or isn’t he? The age-old character motivation many actors and directors have often toiled with in the leading role is all but ignored in this production, instead favouring a more introverted and reclusive pain. Andrew Scott‘s interpretation is a man in turmoil, barely keeping it together, his social skills unravelling as the play continues. The family’s ploy to prove his madness is love-induced by sending Ophelia to end their courtship is, instead, a bitter break-up. Hamlet’s “get thee to a nunnery” is not an attack, but a pleading request for her sake and sanity.
Or the scene of Polonius’ death, where Hamlet decries at length about Gertrude’s new marriage and its grotesque nature – this scene, above all, is Scott’s Hamlet at his most unravelled. His analogies and metaphors are incoherent babble; the words do not cut Gertrude but worry her as she watches her son further descend into himself. His actions are erratic and at times sexual, but not those of a man certain of himself in that moment. This all crescendos to the pinnacle of the scene where amid his mania, he kills the concealed Polonius – while in the text this is due to Hamlet’s belief that it is the King, this psychotic episode instead depicts someone who is killing the monster that no one else can see.
While Scott’s Hamlet is an easy favourite, this is ultimately his play with supporting characters. Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) was heavily omitted from the production. By playing down Hamlet’s torment of her, the only disturbing event to send her into her own psychosis is her father’s death, making her usually fiery swan-song before her suicide incredibly underwhelming. Claudius (Angus Wright) was decidedly dull – the second scene’s opening fifteen minutes involves a lot of Claudius-heavy speeches, and with no inflection or emotion within his words, boy did it drag.
Conceptually, I wish the CCTV idea had been used more. Continuous Surveillance cross with Celebrity was a bright spark that didn’t entirely deliver. While the first appearance of the King begins as an apparition akin to a paranormal investigation, it was only truly utilised three times: twice for the ghost, and a third as the palace is placed under lockdown following Polonius’ death. Royal appearances were televised or reported on the news, seen through several plasma screens, but there was no real sense of the state of the country outside of the palace, nor how obsessed they are with their monarchs. Perhaps this sums up the production: many aspects of the piece focusses inwards without observing its context, and while it isn’t perfection, it is innovative.