Tom Hiddleston’s Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, started its run at RADA on Friday night. The production takes place in the school’s 160-seater Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, and all tickets were allocated by ballot. Despite no tickets being offered to press, as is often customary with big London theatre openings, a number of publications have reviewed the production. This page will provide a rolling update on what those reviews have to say about the production.
"Hiddleston, as we know from past performances, is an accomplished Shakespearean actor. His Coriolanus was marked by a reckless impetuosity and his Cassio by a quiet grace. Both elements are present in this modern-dress Hamlet.
"But, if I had to pick out Hiddleston’s key quality, it would be his ability to combine a sweet sadness with an incandescent fury. He suggests a fierce intellect gnawed by intense melancholy and yet subject to bouts of intemperate rage.
"The grief is there from the start. The first thing we see in this production is Hiddleston’s Hamlet sitting at a piano and softly singing to himself “And will he not come again?”: the refrain that Ophelia later applies to her dead dad here becomes Hamlet’s lament for his own father."
"And, even if it rarely shocks one into new awareness, it has clarity, swiftness and, in the person of Hiddleston, a compelling Hamlet with a genuine nobility of soul."
"It opens with Hiddleston’s sharp profile, silhouetted in front of a small piano. He sings “And will he not come again?” in a quivering voice - the words that Ophelia uses to mourn her father Polonius - barely holding off tears, before leaving the stage in almost complete darkness. "
"And as for the main event, Hiddleston? His Hamlet is proactive, masculine, edgy to the point of aggression - and definitely, absolutely sane. His madness is a ruse, through and through. Having decided to “be mad by craft”, he appears wrapped in the flag of Denmark with his face painted in the national colours, like a hardcore football fan."
"However, arguably, Hiddleston never quite gets under the skin of the character. His soliloquies, with their sometimes unvarying intonation, can feel too much like beautifully acted words rather than thoughts and feelings experienced by the character, here and now. What he lacks in instinctiveness, though, he makes up for in self-assurance.
"Meanwhile, he is at his most affecting in the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene when his anger is undercut by a tenderness that is heartbreaking. Moments like this suggest that this is a performance that could grow deeper and deeper; it’s just a shame that it only has three weeks to do so - but you wouldn’t bet against Hiddleston returning to the role in a more public forum."
"[Hiddleston] is a fine Prince from the get-go, when we see him sitting on a stage bare but for a piano, picking out the notes, singing a lament for his father (though, it must be said, he can’t sing). He makes the role completely his own, emotional, magnetic, canny, often frolicsome. The words seem natural, effortless. He bounds around the stage and his duelling is fierce (his swordplay, unlike his musicianship, is expert)."
"His is a stripped-down version, with modern dress, set in present-day Denmark. Branagh introduces as much mirth as it can take: as Hamlet begins to go mad, he takes to wearing hoodies, painting his face and reading a book titled Reasons to Stay Alive. There are tinges of farce, with doors a-slamming. "
"Not all performances sing but Ansu Kabia is a thunderous ghost and Sean Foley an engaging Polonius. But it is Hiddleston who holds the eye and our imagination. The only shame is that so few will see his HiddleHamlet."