What sets a Royal Shakespeare Company production apart from others is its ability to make Shakespeare palatable and accessible to everyone. And this production of Hamlet is no exception. Under the careful direction of Michael Boyd, the characters tell a complex tale of family feuding, revenge and gradual descent into madness. This was the first of Shakespeare’s great tragedies and every director tries to draw some unique angle or meaning from the text. This production uses low lighting and a sparse set to create an environment that is both monotone and bleak.
Toby Stephens as Hamlet has the qualities of a great actor in the making. With his chiselled features and brooding presence, he exudes just the right amount of suspicion and torment, although at times his voice was strained and occasionally he appeared to run out of breath.
Other splendid performances were delivered by Richard Cordery as Polonius, who gives much needed weight and depth to the production, while Meg Fraser brilliantly portrays the tragic, love-stricken Ophelia. Greg Hicks as the ghost of Hamlet’s father is gruesomely excellent and his presence is enhanced by a heart-thumping signature tune that creates suspense and anticipates his ghostly approach.
The set design by Tom Piper is minimalist to the extreme - a black, raked stage against a black wooden curved wall with various entrances and exits to it. This type of set is looking dated now, having been used many times before. It would be good to see something fresh.