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Published Wednesday 6 August 2008 at 12:40 by Richard Edmonds

Well, it’s not quite the “eternity Hamlet” but it’s getting along that way, yet in the hands of a gifted company of actors, the night flew past.

Perhaps that is because every mood is here for the taking, from acute melancholia to vulgarity (the players scene), flippancy, charm, wit, cynicism and pathos with David Tennant’s interpretation of Hamlet, taking all of them in his stride.

It was Max Beerbohm who wrote, “Hamlet is a hoop through which every eminent actor must, sooner or later, jump”. The role is one of the longest parts in Shakespeare, but it is also one which adapts itself to an actor’s particular capacities, therefore Tennant has the speed, physical beauty and sharp intelligence to give us an electrifying rollercoaster ride which brings significant areas of the play to a knife edge of dramatic tension, with an oily Claudius (Patrick Stewart at his most manipulative) goading him on into some of the most existential soliloquies ever written.

To take only one instance, this Hamlet’s interpretation of the bedroom scene is awesome in its intensity, and what seems to be lacking in the sequences with Ophelia (Mariah Gale) is here given full throttle.

As Penny Downie’s superb cigarette-smoking, vaguely dissolute Gertrude sees the horror of her behaviour laid violently before her, Hamlet (which philosopher said ‘only part of us is sane’?) shoots Polonius (Oliver Ford-Davies on top form) who is hidden behind one of the mirrors which form the atmospheric set where huge mirrors imply a constant surveillance and truly hold a mirror up to nature.

The large crack in the looking glass is the metaphor which signals change and the break up of Elsinore and its devious court. Everything that comes afterwards - Ophelia’s suicide, the last fencing match and finally Hamlet’s death (and how well Tennant plays the final speech) is part of an inevitable slide into the abyss.

The broken mirror is one more brilliant touch in Gregory Doran’s fine production which handles so perfectly the play within the play (dazzling golden ruffs and long-skirted coats), yet can fall off so sadly with the early ineffectual battlement scenes (lots of stage smoke and Stewart’s doubling as an unimpressive, all-too-corporeal, Ghost) and can allow Ophelia to make a poor first appearance in sixties pedal pushers and beach blouse. But this is a glamorous evening, Doran has served his actors well and they have responded faithfully.

Production information

The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 24-November 15

William Shakespeare
Gregory Doran
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Cast includes:
David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford-Davies, John Woodvine, Mark Hadfield, Mariah Gale
Running time:
3hrs 40mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014