Hamlet

© Simon Annand
Hamlet

Everyone’s talking about ‘Hamlet’ but they can’t agree a verdict, let alone an interpretation. Michael Sheen acts like he’s a prince whose uncle has murdered his father and married his mother. But it’s all a delusion or maybe a dream in Ian Rickson’s production, which you enter via a Punchdrunk-style corridor full of clues that Hamlet’s Demark is in fact a secure mental hospital.

I’m all for mash-ups, but Shakespeare’s script needs more tweaks to fit into this oppressively detailed mucus-green ’70s institution. Three and a half hours is a long time to spend without any sense of objective reality. And that’s what’s been chucked out along with the battlements and ghost.

Sheen’s Hamlet is banged up in a ‘sterile promontory’ of shabby carpets and box files, monitored by dodgy doctors: a bouffanted lightweight, Claudius (James Clyde); and kindly beardie weirdie, Polonius (the excellent Michael Gould, achieving comedy in very difficult circumstances).

The leading, misleading details will infuriate tidy minds. You could puzzle over the inconsistencies (why do visitors have to remove shoes with shoelaces, while patients are allowed laces, drugs and knives?). Or you could relax and go with the hints that this is a madman’s-eye view, whose events and characters – from Eileen Walsh’s primly distorted female Rosencrantz (Hamlet’s ex?), to Hayley Carmichael’s ever-loving Horatio (Hamlet’s real mother?) – only exist in Hamlet’s mind.

Making Hamlet the only ‘real’ character adds a huge burden to an already heavy role. Sheen the shapeshifter shines when he breaks out a Gollum-like split personality, swapping his sweet-voiced princely murmurs for the bloodthirsty roar of his dead dad. But his performance is, metaphorically, straitjacketed: an itchy, relentless, circling portrait of imperfect self-consciousness, broken up by violent episodes and overly gothic punctuation. Sheen brings charisma, and a piteous, quizzical sense of futility: ‘To be or not to be’ is a real, not merely a philosophical, dilemma. And

even Hamlet’s final line, ‘The rest is silence’, becomes a query. But it’s hard to get an emotional fix on him except in the soliloquies – precious moments of clarity, when Shakespeare’s play moves into inner space and connects with this production.

This hip, imaginative show is likely to pull in Shakespeare virgins but its clarity issues and knowing twists make it one for the theatreheads. Vinette Robinson’s abused Ophelia and Sally Dexter’s grotesque Gertrude are strong enough to tell an emotional truth that transcends their figmentary status: Robinson snarls PJ Harvey songs and hurls pills with bleeding fingers in a raw mad scene. But the asylum concept would work better for Richard III or Macbeth, tyrants whose mental state dictates the nation’s.

Hamlet’s madness is investigative, but here it has nothing to go on but his own fragmented state of mind. This is a bold, divisive production – and I salute its creators for taking risks. Ultimately, though, their ‘Hamlet’ drove me nuts and left me cold.

Event phone: 020 7922 2922
Event website: http://www.youngvic.org

Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:10
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:2
LiveReviews|17
1 person listening
Annie

Sorry to all those that loved it but I really didn't. Haven't been to the Young Vic for a long time (normally Nt, Ov and Donmar) but if this is representative of their productions these days then I think they must look around and see what everyone else is up to. This production seemed dated and tedious and the psyciatric unit didn't really work for me . Really you shouldn't need three and a half hours to produce something which could be shortened to two and half hours and without the 'set text' endurance test. However, the three standing ovations on the night I attended prove there is a market for this kind of Shakespeare but its not for me.

Caggy

I saw Hamlet at the Globe last year and thought that Hamlet was an unconvincing loser. This was totally different. Setting Hamlet in a psychiatric ward is inspired, as is having his Unclle as the Consultant Psychiatrist. I loved it.

Tom

Probably a 3.5 star show in all truth but Sheen alone is worth the fourth star. The first Hamlet I've seen and I'm eager to see more now - surely Shakespeare would approve of that.

Jason

The production's very muddled and goes to pot in the 2nd half with holes everywhere. However, Sheen's 1st half is very successful and the most nuanced interpretation I've seen of Hamlet so far, so I'm glad I went to see it. I'm not in any way a fan, but I was incredibly impressed by his performance. However, the direction's all over the shop; I don't even know where to begin on that and, after the interval, in the second half, Sheen seems to lose his courage as he loses his way. Personally I think, given guidance by a director less concerned about the play's concept and more concerned about the characters' organic journeys, Michael Sheen's Hamlet could have been celebrated. He knows how to play this part well. He just needed a pared down concept - and that's down to the director.

Cherie

After seeing these reviews, I guess you either love it or hate it. I thought it was fantastic. I'm not a critic, just a theatre fan. This interpretation was very interesting, and the cast did a wonderful job. Michael Sheen and Hayley Carmichael's performances were outstanding! My husband and I talked about it all week!

Mimi

I thought this was a fantastic production, very imaginative, creative, political. Loved Sheen - he was outstanding. You have to think your objective reality - that is the point and I thought the production conveys that well.

TC

This version of the play I found to be completely misleading, it was badly acted as the majority of the cast seemed to have forgotten parts of their lines, which made the whole scene awkward and ruined the context of the play. Especially the soliloquies, Michael Sheen could not pull off the 'To be, or not to be' speech, it didn't draw me in I wasn't moved by the so-called Tragedy at all,. What's the point of having Shakespeare's work if these producers degrade the plays beauty and poetry.

Charlotte Knight

Great reimagining of Hamlet with strong performances throughout and the most moving and affecting Ophelia I have ever seen. Not an easy part to pull off. The set and setting worked for me in a very modern and relevent take on the issue of madness - is he isn't he. Micheal Sheen makes a very charismatic Hamlet and certainly can speak verse however this is coupled with a commitment and energy that is sustained for the 3 and a half hours running time. job well done. I also appreciated the timing of the interval with made the play more equal and entertaining. Sold out - go Young Vic!!

jk

Sorry - stars didn't register last time. So just have to say - Sheen is astonishing and this is the first version of the play I've ever seen (out of dozens, over many years, alas) that utterly grips your brain and your heart.

Ellen

An enjoyable night out for all the wrong reasons - Sheens ridiculously pantomime possession by his dead dad was hilarious! The trick at the end AWFUL! What a shame because actually Michael Sheen was pretty fantastic and very watchable in most of it. I blame the overly interpreted direction and design for ruining what could have been a great performance.

Gemma

An unusual and at times unsettling interpretation of Hamlet, portrayed by the wonderful Michael Sheen - you would be right to have high expectations of him in this role. Despite a technical glitch during the first scene which meant the audience were removed from the auditorium and the performance delayed by 45 mins, the staging and cast made this a truly memorable experience. Having seen both the Tenant and Law versions, everything about this is different, from the institutional setting and intimacy of the theatre itself, to many of the lines being delivered with a wit and sarcasm which I'm not convinced Shakespeare intended, but thrust the play into a modern era. If you're lucky enough to get tickets to this, do go - it's only at the start of the run and guaranteed to get even better.

Elle

If this is "the thing" to see this winter, god help us with what else is out there! I honestly don't know where to start with how wrong this was..

Chloe

A tour de force. Sheen interpreted the text to make it shockingly modern, gritty, and uncomfortable (and I mean that as a compliment!). This was absolutely one of the most breathtaking performance I've ever seen, and I go to a lot of theatre! The supporting characters were incredibly strong too, as was the ensemble as a whole. The staging was incredibly clever and successfully gave new insights into the question of madness/pretending madness. It widened the scope from just Hamlet to the others in Elsinore, raising questions about how madness, grief, and tragedy spread and grow. The final "shot" of the performance will also throw up another host of questions, and make you think about this play in a new way. If you've managed to be lucky enough to get tickets, don't let anything stop you from attending!

HB

Outstanding. It has opinion, balls and a genuine relationship with the text. After endless dull, pat productions, this interpretation blazes. The last second might be the best second I have ever spent in a theatre.

sk

An absolutely astounding performance from Sheen in an innovative and constantly surprising production by Ian Rickson. A really exciting piece of theatre that will be talked about for a long time

JJP

YOUNG VIC'S NEW HAMLET IS A STAGGERING PRODUCTION DOMINATED BY AN INGENIIOUSLY DESIGNED SET RESEMBLING A MAXIMUM SECURITY PSYCHIATRIC WARD. THIS SHOW IS DOMINATED BY MICHAEL SHEEN'S RADIANT PRESENCE IN THE TITLE ROLE (AND ALSO AS THE GHOST OF HIS FATHER!) A TRUE WONDER OF AN EVENT.