This was a fascinating production. The choice of setting – the Central African Kingdom of Denmark – added spice and plenty of colour to the usually dour atmosphere, and the combination of clear dialogue and some strong ensemble performances made for an enjoyable and occasionally gripping evening. I still have reservations about a few of the staging choices, and there were some periods when the energy dropped a bit, but Paapa Essiedu showed his star credentials with his intelligent and mercurial portrayal of the central character. We could see some echoes of his Romeo from last year at the Tobacco Factory, but these were very slight, and didn’t detract from his amazing stage presence and total embodiment of his role. I will be very interested to see this again and indeed any future productions in which this young man participates.
Interesting to see another production of Hamlet here after Jonathan Miller’s excellent version with Jamie Ballard back in 2008. This didn’t reach the same heights, but as it was an early performance we expect the overall standard to improve. And there was a lot to like here, with a brisk edition of the text and some lively sword-fighting. We hope to see it again once they’ve settled into it more, but in any case this was a good start. [Didn’t manage to make the second viewing.]
With so much hype around this production, it was hard to avoid seeing any of the comments or reviews, but we still managed to come to it with open minds. And we found it brilliant! Not the best we’ve ever seen, perhaps, but with an outstanding central performance and some ingenious and thought-provoking changes to the usual text. The set design was amazing, and although the extended first half was asking a lot of the audience, the overall length was reasonable, especially with Fortinbras included in the line-up.
The Prince is now in the building! After our earlier visits in March and May had left us wondering if Jonathan Slinger would ever get his performance together, I’m delighted to report that his Hamlet is now alive and kicking until the final seconds of this splendid production. With the rest of the cast putting their all into the show, this is one of the strongest versions of Hamlet we’ve seen. Tonight we sat by the right hand walkway, with a good view across the stage diagonal. Some extra aspects were clearer from this angle, and although there were one or two minor changes to the staging, on the whole the production was as I noted it up before. The strength of the central performance was the main difference, and it changed the standard tremendously.
It’s an interesting experience watching a production over several performances, especially in a long run. The ‘normal’ expectation is for growth: actors will develop their roles, the cast will work better together, and a deeper and broader view of the play will emerge through both the actors’ greater experience and the repeated viewings, which are often helped by a different angle. When we first saw this production during the previews, we were confident that the next performance we saw (ignoring the understudy run) would have come on considerably. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Jonathan Slinger still hasn’t got to grips with his role as the vacillating prince, and although there were some interesting changes to some of the staging, and some improvements in individual performances, it would seem that our enjoyment last time round was largely based on the surprise factor, which was understandably lacking tonight.
These understudy runs can be really good fun and very interesting; seeing how an actor manages to find their own performance within an established production can be enlightening, so we were keen to see how the understudies would handle their roles in this unusual, design driven production. Apart from Greg Hicks playing the roles of Claudius and the ghost – John Stahl was unavailable – everyone else was playing a different part while most of the other leads – Jonathan Slinger, Pippa Dixon, Alex Waldmann and Robin Soans – were occasionally on stage as extras. Jonathan Slinger took the part of Gonzago in the initial mime sequence.
For such a well-known play, it was refreshing to see a distinctly different take on many aspects of the story, coupled with a version of the text which dropped many familiar lines. Of all David Farr’s productions at the RSC that we’ve seen, this one is definitely the strongest, and as this was only the eleventh performance (press night tomorrow) there is plenty of scope for the actors to develop their roles within the overall structure. Mind you, they’re starting from a high baseline, with much to enjoy already in this lively, if a tad over-long, production.