Friday, 10 December 2010

Hamlet Review

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
National Theatre, SE1

The Hamlet Identity

One day you wake up in Denmark and find yourself a Royal operative, a prince, no less. Your mission? To make sure the wicked ruler (who murdered his brother the King, your Dad) and his wife (who turns out to be your Mum!) are brought down, allowing a chap who is looked on favourably by the English government to take over. In the meantime, unfortunately, some collateral damage occurs with the death of a pair of innocent siblings, a tomboy teen and her elder brother. And of course noone is going to admit you are one of their operatives or prevent your death. John Grisham,  Robert Ludlum ...? Er no, Will Shakespeare actually. It’s a ripping yarn in director Nicholas Hytner’s version but less a revenge tale than a modern-dress thriller of Eastern European dictatorship imploding. A thriller about the kind of totalitarian regime where detention warrants are still probably hand-written on carbon copied forms to keep them away from leaky data storage and for easy, untraceable destruction after death. TLT and her sidekick sedan felt more poignancy attached to Dynasty-style-tippler Queen Gertrude (Clare Higgins) and Polonius (David Calder) caught out by their own ambition than Hamlet (Rory Kinnear). Critics have remarked on this Hamlet’s lucidity – yes, a deliberate Jason-Bourne-kind-of lucidity with seemingly no ties and a ruthless forward trajectory. It imposes a logic turning the King’s ghost into a spymaster with vague instructions from beyond the grave. And, strangely for a play renowned for its philosophical soliloquys, Hamlet becomes an action story where they all become part of the spy-like simulation.   So who needs the agonizing of a philosopher prince when you have a stonking thriller with a sleeper agent goaded into action? Well, TLT actually. It’s enjoyable yet it’s a amber light for The Guy Who Came In From The Cold.