Theatre Review: 'Hamlet' at the Rada Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre
HiddleHamlet Is Terrific (Pity There Are No Tickets)

The Times, 2 September 2017
By Ann Treneman
Thanks Jane

This production of Shakespeareís great play stars Tom Hiddleston and so it was dubbed, immediately, a HiddleHamlet. The hype has been huge. You cannot buy a ticket for love nor money to see the super-villain star of Thor in the role, as every one of them for the three-week run were allocated by ballot (proceeds go to Rada). Critics were not given tickets and The Times won its ticket via the ballot like everyone else.

Itís a terrific production. Sir Kenneth Branagh directs with style but then heís had a while to think it over. Apparently he first floated the idea of doing 'Hamlet' with Hiddleston a decade ago when he saw him in 'Othello'. Since then the doomed Dane has become the role du jour for thrusting young actors who want to be taken seriously: David Tennant; Benedict Cumberbatch; Andrew Scott, whose pause-filled Hamlet is just finishing in the West End.

And now, Hiddleston. He 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 canít 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).

This 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. There is also melodrama and, towards the end, way too many dark and brooding Scandi noir skies.

This is a small (160-seat) theatre and the audience surrounds the stage on three sides so itís hard to hide a mistake. The words are wonderfully clear throughout and Branagh has had some fun with the casting, having placed more women in various roles: Guildenstern has become Guildastern and Rosencrantz is now a Rosa.

Itís three hours long and flows well, helped by James Cotterillís sparse set (itís amazing what you can do with a sofa and a desk). Not all performances sing but Nicholas Farrell 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.

To 23 September. Tickets unavailable.

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