Hamlet was probably the one show of this trip that I was looking most forward to. I have read the play in class and it is my favorite of Shakespeares plays. I looked up some information on this show and some reviews so I would know what I would be getting into. I knew before we left for London that Andrew Scott would be playing the title character and I was immediately excited for I know Scott from the show Sherlock. I also know the director, Robert Icke, for he directed a recent adaptation of The Oresteia, which is another play that we study in class. I discovered in my research that this play would be a more modern version of the play and I was a little concerned because I saw a film version with Ethan Hawke that was made in 2000 and I hated it. I still was going to keep a clear head while viewing this play because I know that this entire play really makes you think. Dr. Schmitz talked with some of us before the show and this production keeps with the tradition of making you think and I started getting very excited before the show started.
Once the show started I was immediately drawn in, especially once Andrew Scott arrived onstage. Once I saw him, I noticed that he had more of a sense of madness right away and it was different from other productions. Normally, the character Hamlet seems to be mad so he can buy time later in the show, but him having a sense of madness right away worked for me because it really set up his seeming to be later on in the show because he has the sense of madness early on. The entire show worked for me. Andrew Scott was phenomenal in the role of Hamlet, because he really worked with aspect of being and seeming to be the entire show. Once it was time for his soliloquies, I really felt that he was talking to us as the audience. It worked because the character Hamlet knows his is in a play and Scott played that excellently. There was a time where I made eye contact with Scott, for a brief second and it was almost as if he was talking to me for that split second and it was incredible. One other aspect of the character that Scott made work was how he discovered that he is involved in a mind game. He discovered it in this production when the ghost of his father tells him that Claudius murdered him. Hamlets speech after the ghost departs is when both Gertrude and Claudius are seeming to be what they are not and now his involved in a big mind game. He later discovers that Ophelia is involved and Scott played this scene great as well because his love for Ophelia is so great that when he discovers that she is involved he is heartbroken. Scott gave a masterful performance in this production of Hamlet.
Normally, modern Shakespeare adaptations do not work for me because the directors try to make it too modern and forget about the text. I felt Icke made the modernization perfectly while also staying true to the text. I also got some sudden sense of fear because Icke made it seem sometimes that this play would go against the text. One example would be when Hamlet had the chance to kill Claudius after the play that Hamlet put on. Claudius was talking to Hamlet himself and it was almost as if Claudius was going to let Hamlet kill him. Hamlet pointed the gun at Claudius and the was silence throughout the entire theater. I have read the play and knew what was going to happen but I was still at the edge of my seat because of how Icke directed it. In that scene, Claudius does not know Hamlet is in the room, but in this production, Claudius knows he is there and gives Hamlet a free shot at him and Hamlet is left with a choice.
There was however a questionable choice for me and that was the ending scene. The choice of the characters going to heaven worked but the choice of not letting Hamlet go into heaven did not really work for me. I understand that he is guilty of killing Ophelias father and he killed Claudius but it reality, none of that would have happened if Claudius had not killed Hamlets father in the first place. I do not understand why Claudius got to go into heaven because his murder of Hamlets father started the entire show.
Other than the ending scene, I felt the entire show worked for me. Scotts performance of Hamlet having a sense of madness right away was probably what drew me in from the beginning. Ickes directing kept me drawn in and on the edge of my seat throughout the entire show. I can say this is the best show we have seen as a group.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a piece of work that I had no prior knowledge of before entering this show, which I could tell was not common. Most of the other students had studied the show, and even Dr. Schmitz teaches entire classes centered on this one play. I was hoping for something that would change the way I thought about Shakespeare, especially because of Andrew Scott, who was playing Hamlet. I am extremely pleased to write that this show was one of my absolute favorites. There were so many layers to this show that I believe were portrayed extremely well.
I do believe that since I had not seen the show before, and I knew the actor, I could be a little biased. I had no prior experience or knowledge how Hamlet was previously or typically portrayed. However, there were at least two very distinct levels that Scott brought to the character that he switched between quite beautifully. There were many times throughout the show that I knew that I could not tell whether Hamlet was truly mad or if he was faking it. This show seems to really play on the ambiguity and discussion around the truth of Hamlet’s actions during the play.
Towards the ending scene, I believe that the show finally took a stance on the state of Hamlet. Hamlet is giving his final monologue to Horatio, but he is facing and directly addressing the audience. In this way, I believe the show was attempting to impress on the audience that we had constantly been real to Hamlet, and that he truly saw us as an audience, even if he himself believed we were not real. It was struck me how Horatio was the last friend he had, but he also referred to the audience as Horatio. The audience had been there with him throughout the show, making it seem like we were also people he trusted. Finally, he grabs Horatio and Horatio reacts to the audience for the first time, seeing the people that Hamlet had been speaking to. It was because of this that I do not believe they were attempting to portray Hamlet as “mad,” but instead just angry. I did see him more as a victim who was trying to take what he believed he was owed.
Something that stood out to me was the theme of the show was mortality. Hamlet spends the entire beginning depressed about his father’s death, even going on to speak about how he does not know what comes after death. I believe that he was making himself go mad by wondering what was real, what was not real, especially when it came to death. This was very apparent during the final scene when he sees the “afterlife” after he is poisoned and he watches all his family and acquaintances give up their watches (their “time”) and then head to the party scene behind the screen. It was stunning how it shifted from what he saw as death to when he finally dies. I thought this scene was really a scene that stood out. It was heartbreaking as he was finally contented with what he saw, as he believed it was real and he would be happy. Then he finally dies in Horatio’s arms, and the switch from a happy belief to a painful truth was heartbreaking.
While the show did a great job with many of the technical aspects, it was difficult at some points to tell what was going on. It could have been due to our seating, but the music and sounds were overpowering at some times. However, I think that with that, the show did a fantastic job of adapting the physical aspects of the show to be more contemporary. The costuming and the way they incorporated technology with the security cameras and security details were astounding and interesting to watch the whole way through. This show did a fantastic job of portraying this Shakespearean classic, and I am very happy to have finally seen this show, especially considering the levels that the company took it to.
“Hamlet” is many more things than mere words can capture. The name evokes the memory of two characters, a text renowned as one of the best tragedies ever written, it describes a circumstance that tests a person’s strength and loyalty, it’s a name synonymous with being a scholar or having honor, and it is a challenge that many will face, but few will surmount. Hamlet played at the Harrold Pinter theatre and I had the distinct honor of being in the room to witness it from the second row. The production was the product of Robert Icke’s beautiful direction and the performance of Andrew Scott. Together, they generated a rendition of Hamlet that I had never had any inkling could exist. The character was deeply dynamic, relentlessly witty, and relatable on a human level, but he was also incredibly funny.
Hamlet is usually described as witty because he must have the ability to consistently trick Claudius and Polonius. Without a witty Hamlet both of those characters would have to be reduced to utter idiots. Therefore, he must be played with some intelligence. However, there is a good deal of difference between a strategist and a snarky intellectual. A strategist can think through his position and his problems thoroughly, thereby coming to some kind of solution. While on the other hand, one can also be witty in the rapid fire pace of conversation where people shoot back and forth insults and replies so ferociously that one ends up talking completely over the head of the other. That was the kind of Hamlet Andrew Scott had in store for us. I found moments where I could not stop laughing because of how absolutely vicious he was in his berating of Polonius, who was utterly clueless. I believe part of what made his delivery so effective in this right was that Scott decided to ditch the iambic pentameter that is programmed into the text. He instead delivered every line as naturally as in normal conversation. This made it clear to me that a recognizable speech pattern and natural cadence are crucial ingredients in effectively using stichomythia.
Andrew Scott is without a doubt the most unusual and interesting part of this production, but he never could have pulled it off without the rest of the production supporting him as it did. The set was one of the most powerful elements because it operated in much the same manner as the rapid fire conversations Hamlet often has. They employed a device known as privacy glass. This is an opaque sheet of glass that turns completely transparent when an electrical current is applied to it. They used two layers of this facing the audience to form a hallway. Often there would be something going on in the hall, such as Hamlet marching along with a gun, and in the middle of the action the glass would change and we were forced into a different scene. As the glass goes opaque we cant see the results and we naturally refocus to the foreground at downstage. It’s the same effect as a camera cut to a different scene in a movie. It adds intensity and the audience feels their attention being manipulated, which most of us don’t like. Further, at a couple special moments we see through both layers of the glass into an ephemeral world governed by other rules than the natural one. The glass turns transparent when electrified, but never the less the effect of looking through two layers of glass still gives a certain textural quality to the action upstage. It’s almost mist like. At the end of the play this area and this effect are used to make the upstage area into a representation of heaven. This connects directly to the text in my eyes, because nearly every line in Hamlet is loaded with multiple layers of intense thought, but it all lays behind the denotative meaning of the conversations. Further, the language can shift rapidly from a deep contemplative meaning, to a mere surface insult. Such as when Polonius interrupts Hamlets soliloquy.