This RSC production of Hamlet is – incredibly – the first production I’ve seen with a male actor playing the lead. (My first experience of Shakespeare’s tragedy was the Royal Exchange version starring Maxine Peake.)
I studied it at university, but I feel like one of the reasons I haven’t seen it much is because – frankly – I’m not a fan. It’s very long, and Hamlet is one of the most annoying heroes in literature. But this touring production, which I saw at The Lowry, definitely helped to change my view.
For starters, Paapa Essiedu is excellent, bringing a youthful energy to the lead role. He whinges at Claudius and Gertrude like a child, whilst moving about the stage like a teenager – his graffitied white suit and messy paintings that decorate the set add to this impression. And somehow, he makes the play’s most famous monologue sound new, fresh and spontaneous.
Elsewhere in the cast Joseph Mydell is a comically puffed up Polonius, fond of his own voice, and miraculously the mad Ophelia keeps her clothes on.
The African setting gives an injection of rhythm and colour to Shakespeare’s slowest play, with patterned hangings, traditional costumes, live drumming/singing and Nguni stick-fighting replacing Laertes and Hamlet’s duel in the finale. All of this is in contrast with the sobriety and stillness of the scenes, which are still staged and performed conventionally.
This production is on at The Lowry until Saturday 3 February and it’s definitely worth a watch.