RSC | Hamlet

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From it’s opening scenes showing Hamlet receiving his degree at Wittenberg University, it’s clear that the RSC are offering something very different, director Simon Godwin has painted this version of Hamlet with glorious technicolour and focuses firmly on a Prince who feels displaced, an outcast amongst his own people.

Making history back in 2016 when Paapa Essiedu became the first black actor to play Hamlet at the RSC he is undoubtedly the heart of this production with director Simon Godwin very much shaping it around him. Essiedu is of Ghanaian descent which has been used to influence the piece and shifted the coordinates offering a rich and absorbing West African flavour. Ripped away from his overseas education due to the death of his Father, Hamlet is struggling not only with his grief but also with a feeling of dislocation from his people as well as a confusion at the swiftness in which his mother has remarried. Seeing the haunting ghost of his dead father impacts him enormously, from here he begins a powerful psychological unravelling as he bids to seek revenge upon his uncle Claudius who murdered his father before stealing not only the throne but also Hamlet’s own mother for his wife. In Hamlet’s bid to expose the truth, lives and loves are lost as almighty tragedies unfold.

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Essiedu is a revelation as Hamlet, sardonic and unpredictable, charismatic and incredibly witty; he devours Shakespeare’s words and delivers them as if they were his own. His commanding presence fills the Lowry’s expansive Lyric theatre entirely, this riveting and contemporary Prince of Denmark is playful and beguiling with a unsettling element of danger that’s fascinating to watch. He questions, dissects, flips the expected on it’s head and offers an entirely new Hamlet.

This critically-acclaimed RSC production feels incredibly fresh, unlike any Hamlet I’ve seen before. The cultural richness and sheer brilliance of the ensemble brings an entirely new spin on this Shakespeare classic while playful, exuberant choreography casts light on the shade on Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. While there is intensity there is also great humour with sharp performances from gossipy chief counsellor to the King, Polonius (Joseph Mydell) and matter of fact, take-each-day-as-it comes Gravedigger, Ewart James Walters. Mimi Ndiweni makes for a heartbreakingly tragic Ophelia partnered beautifully with a touching and honest performance from brother Laertes (Buom Tihngang).

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The vibrancy of designer Paul Wills staging breathes further life into this ground-breaking production, the staging reflecting the state of Hamlets grieving and maddening mind. Lighting designer Paul Anderson succeeds magnificently, from the hauntingly atmospheric to the blisteringly bold every scene lit to perfection and recreated for this tour by Matt Peel.

Part tragedy, park dark comedy Hamlet is a drum-thumping, high-energy, intoxicating triumph of theatre. The contemporary twist, perfectly paced & honest performances ensure the RSC succeed in delivering Shakespeare in an accessible and wholly captivating way. Paapa Essiedu captures not only the heart and soul of the character but makes the text seem new and original. I struggled to find any fault in this daring & dynamic production which will stay with me for some time. Inspired and inspiring theatre at its finest.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 3rd February tickets available here.

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