Review: Andrew Scott blazes as Hamlet at Almeida

***UPDATE: I’ve just booked tickets to see the West End transfer. The choice of the Harold Pinter Theatre, with fewer than 800 seats, is a smart move for a production that fires on intimacy. Even so it is more than double the size of the Almeida and the intricate, highly technical staging will be a challenge to replicate, bearing in mind the initial first night had to be postponed because of problems. The clash between the modernist set and such an overtly Victorian auditorium after the neutral Almeida may actually accentuate the sense of unease that characterises this fine piece of work.

Very glad my prediction of a West End transfer came true, no news of a filmed version– this does need to happen though; this is a Hamlet for a generation. Sad to hear, though, that luminous Juliet Stevenson will end her run as Gertrude on July 1, talk is excellent Lia Williams will replace her but if I had a choice it would be Kate Fleetwood.

Booking information: Public sales open April 6. Advance sales include Almeida members and those who sign up for TimeOut offers, which is how I bought mine *****

To whet your appetites, here is my original review:

Hamlet is the ultimate role for any actor and the best pass into theatrical legend. There is no doubt that Robert Ickes’s unbearably moving new production at the Almeida is up there with the greats, as is Andrew Scott as Shakespeare’s tortured Dane.

It will come as no surprise that a man best known for playing vicious psychopath Moriarty weights the role on the side of true rather than feigned insanity and it needs no major imaginative leap to believe Andrew Scott’s Danish prince capable of drinking hot blood.

But what is unexpected is his vulnerability, conveyed through agonisingly understated diction as well as the occasional searing rant. The shockwaves of his grief at his father’s death and his mother’s betrayal rip through the audience in this intimate production.

Expectations about Scott’s appearance, following his star turn in BBC’s phenomenally successful Sherlock, mean a frenzy over tickets and there’s added piquancy given the last major London Hamlet was played by Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch but there is no contest.

Where the Cumberbatch production, in the colossal auditorium of the Barbican, was undermined by nonsensical gimmicks and poorly thought out sight-lines, the version in the pint-sized Almeida is a triumph on every level. I am trying to resist saying a palpable hit but it has just slipped out. Robert Icke has done it again.

Icke’s decision to go for completely naturalistic delivery makes every line intelligible and the audience, on this first preview, were literally straining to hear every word. If you want accessibility, this is how to do it.

The use of technology is very clever indeed with quasi-Sky news footage framing and punctuating the production while an ingenious use of cameras gives us close-ups of Claudius and Gertrude during The Players’ performance. The use of CCTV is quite simply brilliant and I am not going to spoil it by describing it here.

All of the main performers are strong but you will not see a better Gertrude than Juliet Stevenson’s – she is one of the main reason this production is such a success. She sizzles with desire for Claudius, with love for Hamlet and reels with self-loathing, whilst her farewell to Ophelia is one of the biggest tear-jerkers of very weepy evening.

The production comes in at just under four hours including two intervals but the time gallops away.

It ought to be filmed and really deserves a West End transfer — I assume both will happen.

(Note: This was my thirteenth Hamlet and is the best production I have ever seen joint with Kenneth Branagh’s.)

Hamlets in order of personal preference:

1 Kenneth Branagh & Alex Jennings

3 David Tennant & Andrew Scott

5 Toby Stephens

6 Michael Sheen

7 Roger Rees

8 Rory Kinnear

9 Jonathan Pryce

10 Ralph Fiennes

11 Jonathan Slinger

12 Simon Russell Beale

13 Benedict Cumberbatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Review: Andrew Scott blazes as Hamlet at Almeida

  1. You say this is your favourite joint with Branagh’s but it is only the third place in your table of Hamlet’s! Is that a mistaken?

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My big worry with Andrew Scott is that he is such a shouty actor– very shouty in The Odyssey live for instance — but he really kept a lid on it at the first performance. I hope he does rein it in as I agree it is very alienating. The use of film was one of my favourite parts too and reminded me of the Alex Jenning’s version where he is watching old home movies of playing with his father on the beach.

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  2. Enjoyed the Icke production but felt that this was more of an ensemble production rather than a tour de force by once actor. Scott was good but when I look back on this other actors made an equally strong impression, particularly Juliet Stevenson as you have said. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Haven’t seen all the Hamlet productions you mention but of those I have seen Jonathan Pryce is still my number one!

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    1. There were lots of strong performances, especially Juliet Stevenson. I think, for me, the intimacy of the production really made a difference as well as the acting. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by Scott but he moved me. Jonathan Pryce is brilliant — loved his Lear and Shylock!

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