Once again, Hamlet is going to be the talk of the theatrical summer. Two years ago, Benedict Cumberbatch galvanised the town with a brooding, thoughtful prince at the Barbican in a slightly over-staged production of looming spectacle from designer Es Devlin and director Lyndsey Turner that was seen at the Barbican. Now Andrew Scott -- who plays Cumberbatch's Sherlock nemesis Jim Moriarty in the TV series that made them both famous -- proves to be Cumberbatch's own nemesis in a performance of more edgy, everyman qualities; though the two actors are roughly the same age -- they were born just three months apart in 1976 - Scott projects a more boyishly youthful demeanour.
But it is current hotshot director Robert Icke who is the even bigger star here. He has a way of wrestling classic plays from the accretions of history, whether they're the ancient Greek plays of Aeschylus (as he did with Oresteia in 2015) or the Russian 19th century masterpieces of Chekhov (as he did with Uncle Vanya in 2015), and reinventing them in the here and now. Each show has originated at Islington's Almeida Theatre, before Oresteia moved to the Trafalgar Studios and Hamlet has now moved to the Pinter.
The Observer's Susannah Clapp said of the former "you can almost see the dust flying off the old master", while writing of the latter, she brilliantly characterised his work as "giving the British stage electric shocks for the past three years. Particularly with his new creations of old texts." She quotes him saying that its a bit “like using a foreign plug. You are in a country where your hairdryer won’t work when you plug it straight in. You have to find the adaptor which will let the electricity of now flow into the old thing and make it function."
He has certainly plugged his Hamlet into something that gives it a jolt of high-voltage electricity that keeps the play's family tragedies churning with an inexorable dread and high drama. Even if you are familiar with the play it is constantly surprising, and especially if you are not, it will feel like it is newly minted. Here, following perhaps in the footsteps of Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies, it is played like an exercise in mass surveillance, with video cameras watching and recording every move.
The play feels viscerally exciting. As designed by Hildegarde Bechtler with cold glass panels defining the playing areas, and video screens dominating, its a modern-dress production of hypnotising power. There's a creepily insinuating performance from Angus Wright as Hamlet's usurping step-father Claudius, and a really fine, anguished performance from Juliet Stevenson as his mother Gertrude. Also stunning are Jessica Brown Findlay as Ophelia, Luke Thompson as her brother Laertes, and Peter Wright as their father Polonius -- a doomed family caught in the power grab of Claudius.
Shakespeare lives in the here and now -- but also forever, thanks to a production that will become an instant part of theatrical folklore.
Read our original review of Hamlet from the Almeida Theatre.