REVIEW: Northern Girl reviews Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

Ever since I found out Andrew Scott was playing Hamlet I knew I had to get my hands on tickets – I was on a train to Paris FYI – so when a quick google told me it was all sold out I was devastated. Now, had we have not moved to London that would have been the end of that but when we read in to it in more depth we were delighted to know that the Almeida theatre hold back a small quantity of tickets for sale on the day. Tom works shifts so lucky for us (mostly me) he was able and willing to stand in a queue on every available weekday off. Day 1 (Wednesday) he arrived a little after 10 with the doors opening at 11, we missed out. Thursday, he arrived at 9am and jackpot; 2 tickets please.

The reason I was so obsessed with seeing Andrew Scott was because I had fallen in love with the Sherlock TV series. Tom was already a fan but I had seen none so in anticipation of S4 I gave them a go. I was hooked. As a result, James Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott) is now my favourite TV/Movie villain of ALL TIME. For reference also up there is Tiago Rodriguez (Skyfall) and Darth Vader (I’m a massive star wars fan).

Now I knew nothing about the story behind Hamlet all I knew was that the role is so iconic that I wanted to see how the man who became my favourite TV villain would portray this legendary character in theatre – not watching him through screens (or at least not expecting there to be screens) but experiencing him being there in front of me as Hamlet.

Whilst all this excited me, I was extremely concerned that Andrew Scott was now Moriarty to me and there wouldn’t be a lot that could change that. There are certainly similarities to be drawn from the two character profiles and it may be more that director Robert Icke wanted Andrew for that reason. The dark humour and quick wit certainly would be welcomed by Moriarty but there is no doubt at all that when he is on that stage Andrew Scott is out and out Hamlet.

I have never felt chills quite like the feeling I got from Hamlet’s moments of anguish. Think the sensation you get when you hear your favourite song and you get goosebumps, now imagine that 100x more intense and you’re almost there. Andrew’s portrayal sees him pin point the exact moments to lash out vocally and with the use of camera trickery and electronics that give an experience like no other, I certainly jumped in my skin more than I perhaps would like to admit. Although that feeling may also have been intensified by the almost claustrophobic feel of the Almeida theatre but having experienced it first hand I don’t see how any other venue would have suited this adaptation.

What caught me off guard the most however were the moments I and the rest of the audience were laughing out loud. Be it the charming playfulness of Ophelia and Laertes in Act 1 or the way Hamlet tortures and humours Ophelia’s father the way a cat would with a mouse. 

Maybe it’s because I have never studied Hamlet, maybe it’s because I’ve grown up since hating Shakespeare during my English Literature A-Level or maybe it is the stellar work of the director and actor duo but the wonderful and famous monologues are no longer exaggerated versions of the script – something Hamlet is quick to shut down himself with the players – but are emotional, thought-provoking and incredibly easy to understand. 

The relevance to adulthood finally explains why my tutors were so enthusiastic about The Bard’s work. “To be or not to be” when put into the context that it is by Andrew Scott has never been more emotionally spellbinding and it is these moments of revelation that make us experience warmth and empathy for Hamlet. The emotions that these monologues take us through are suddenly relatable on a multitude of levels. Be prepared for this adaptation of Hamlet to take you to the very dark places you try to forget; be it family bitterness, coming to terms and struggling with grief, denying yourself love because of personal issues, loneliness, a volatile temperament or simply experiencing suppression in your youth, whatever is relevant to you will reveal itself here but the audience interaction the director has created will wrap the entire theatre in a blanket of togetherness as you go through Hamlet’s journey with him.

(Even the programme captions the emotion – and yes that is green paper, that runs throughout).

Going into English teacher mode briefly, the symbolism of colour is very obvious. For a modern adaptation you will see very few primary colours, perhaps only really noticeably in Ophelia as the family conspire against Hamlet to seek out the source of his suffering. What you will notice however is the power of black and white. The first glimpse of this, though not really understanding until later on, is the Queen’s lack of white dress for her wedding (though this may also be used to reflect the fact that this is not her first trip down the aisle). It is also glaringly obvious when we see Hamlet in nothing but black clothing until Act 3 where he switches to white for a fencing battle and in Ophelia (also Act 3) as the colour white seems to epitomise her descent into a madness we have seen very similar before; perhaps caused by the exact same reasons.

It is without a doubt Hamlet deserves every single one of it’s stellar reviews. It is worth every single minute spent in a queue to get tickets and I only wish it was on longer so more people get to experience it. Hamlet has left me hungry for more Shakespeare and if like me, you fell out of love with him due to study, I would encourage everyone to go back and read his work as an adult (if you can’t make it to the Almeida Theatre before the 15th April).

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