A mo­tor­ing duke and an emot­ing prince

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE­ATRE JOHN NATHAN Ham­let

FROM THE mo­ment Orsino asks if mu­sic be the food of love, it is pretty clear that di­rec­tor Si­mon God­win wants this Twelfth Night to be un­like any you have seen be­fore. Usu­ally, the Duke is loung­ing in his court as he vents an ob­ses­sion that, if cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent, would have re­sulted in his ar­rest for stalk­ing the un­in­ter­ested Olivia. But in this ver­sion he is doorstep­ping her glass man­sion hav­ing driven up in a vin­tage sports car. And so pe­riod and place is set.

This Il­lyria is not the place of an­cient an­tiq­uity in which Shake­speare set his com­edy, but a 21stcen­tury state that feels oddly like nowhere in par­tic­u­lar. If stylis­ti­cally it all feels rather un­spe­cific, just wait for the in­gre­di­ents of this pro­duc­tion to co­here. Once they do, they make a de­li­cious and en­rich­ing whole.

Cen­tral to Soutra Gil­mour’s de­sign is a gi­ant pyra­mid — not solid, like the ones in Egypt, but par­ti­tioned so that, as it re­volves, scenes glide into and out of view like horses on a carousel. And cen­tral to a host of won­der­ful per­for­mances is Tamsin Greig’s ut­terly dead­pan Malvo­lia. This is the lat­est re­cent ex­am­ple of a ma­jor pro­duc­tion switch­ing the gen­der of a tra­di­tion­ally male Shake­spearean char­ac­ter, a thing now so es­tab­lished it’s hardly worth men­tion­ing, es­pe­cially in a play whose barmy plot piv­ots on a fe­male twin pre­tend­ing to be male.

But as Olivia’s party-poop­ing steward, Greig is price­less. With her cheer­less vis­age framed by a sphinx­like black bob, her Malvo­lia flashes ad­mon­ish­ing glares at the au­di­ence if she de­tects unseemly be­hav­iour from that di­rec­tion. There is just enough mal­ice to en­joy her hu­mil­i­a­tion, while just enough hu­man­ity to be ap­palled by it.

Tamara Lawrence’s Vi­ola is ad­mirably un­der­played, though in an­other gen­der-swap Doon Mac­kichan’s as Olivia’s fool Feste is un­der-de­fined and un­der­pow­ered, more party an­i­mal than sub­ver­sive ob­server. Both are up­staged by the sheer star wattage of their fel­low cast mem­bers: Tim McMullen’s havoc-wreak­ing Toby Belch; Daniel Rigby’s one-man Dumb and Dum­ber — aka An­drew Aguecheek; and Phoebe Fox’s countess Olivia who should be in mourn­ing for her brother but is con­stantly con­flicted by the for­mal­ity of her sta­tus and the urge to live life to the full. Ul­ti­mately this pro­duc­tion helps you do just that. Almeida

AF­TER BENE­DICT Cum­ber­batch’s ver­sion, which saw a re­gres­sive Prince of Den­mark find so­lace in his boys’ toys, comes an­other Sher­lock star’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

An­drew (Moriarty) Scott’s is a very mod­ern Ham­let. And not just be­cause Robert Icke’s pro­duc­tion sets the play among sleek Dan­ish fur­ni­ture, smoked-glass doors and in front of an ar­ray of CCTV screens on which the ghost of Ham­let’s mur­dered fa­ther ap­pears like a lost se­cu­rity guard. But be­cause Scott’s prince is of the generation that out­wardly dis­plays ev­ery mood and emo­tion. Al­ways on the verge of a tantrum, his erup­tions come at ear-split­ting vol­ume. And for much of this near fourhour, two-in­ter­val pro­duc­tion, it is easy to sym­pa­thise with Claudius’s com­plaint that his nephew’s os­ten­ta­tious emot­ing comes across as some­what self-in­dul­gent.

But this is a per­for­mance that deepens with nu­ance. The “To be…” speech, which Scott’s Ham­let be­gins from the stalls, is a mo­ment of such in­ti­macy I barely breathed through it

An­drew Scott as Ham­let for fear of break­ing the spell.

Yet, de­spite dis­play­ing a com­plete spec­trum of his emo­tions, Scott never quite moves yours as much you’d hope. His Ham­let is hard to like. There is wit, but not much charm. And when he is with David Rin­toul’s man­ful ghost, it’s hard to imag­ine a lov­ing bond with this old-school dad that ex­plains the all-en­com­pass­ing grief of the son. Harder, at least, than say be­tween Peter Wright’s Alzheimers-suf­fer­ing Polo­nius and his daugh­ter Ophe­lia, a role for which Jes­sica Brown Find­lay gen­er­ates a sense of ab­ject loss that is as deep as Ham­let’s only in a frac­tion of the stage time.

Still, there are some won­der­ful mo­ments of re-imag­i­na­tion: the ro­man­tic his­tory be­tween Ham­let and Amaka Okafor’s fe­male Guilden­stern; and Claudius’s con­fes­sion, which is nor­mally di­rected to God, is here of­fered to a gun-tot­ing Ham­let. As his mum, Juliet Steven­son is also on ter­rific form. Her tran­si­tion from loy­alty to­wards her new hus­band, to en­mity as she re­alises his treach­ery, is su­perbly judged.

So there is much here that is well worth watch­ing. But I’d say we’re still wait­ing for a mod­ern Ham­let that lives up to the hopes of con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences.

PHOTO: MANUEL HARLAN

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