Hamlet at the RSC


23rd April marked Shakespeare’s 449th birthday, and this anniversary seemed a good opportunity to revisit Stratford, where I hadn’t been since the grand reopening of the RSC’s main theatre in 2011, and saw a very fine staging of Merchant of Venice. This time, we were back for a new production of Hamlet, starring the company’s latest wunderkind, Jonathan Slinger, who has established himself as the go-to actor for the big classical roles with Macbeth, Prospero and Richard III on his recent CV.


Slinger’s unfortunate in that he comes after, for my money, the definitive modern-day Hamlet in the shape of Rory Kinnear at the NT in 2010, as well as other high-profile appearances by the likes of Jude Law and, in the RSC’s most recent production, David Tennant. Nonetheless, he’s convincingly ‘antic’ in the role, giving the ever-mercurial Dane a sense of unpredictability and skittishness. It’s also a clever idea to have him deliver the famous opening line ‘Who’s there?’, as it immediately sets up an idea of this Denmark as a mysterious place where the supernatural and the realistic tread warily hand-in-hand with one another.

Some of the touches in David Farr’s bold, moderately revisionist staging work superbly; I loved, for instance, the way in which the floorboards are gradually removed to reveal a murky earth festooned with skulls, and the production moves along at a fair old pace, making three and a half hours feel barely half that. It helps that the remodelled theatre has made clever use of the remodelled thrust stage, meaning that actors are allowed the freedom to prowl around the stage.


Excellent casting – as you’d expect from the rep system of the RSC – means that Pippa Nixon makes an unusually interesting and sympathetic Ophelia, Alex Waldmann is the Horatio you’d want by your side in a tight spot, and (substituting for an ill Greg Hicks) John Stahl was a monumental, menacing Claudius and a touching Ghost. I also enjoyed Robin Soans’ good-natured Polonius, a lighter and more sympathetic interpretation than the character is often given.

The odd directorial touch baffled us – why, for instance, is it set in what looks like a fencing hall in a boarding school? – but this is high-class stuff. And Slinger’s (presumably inevitable) Iago should be quite a treat in a few years time.

Visit the RSC website for details of all current productions and performances.


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