Andrew Scott, whose roles in Spectre and Sherlock have made him a household name is a natural fit for the desperately human Hamlet, with his Irish lilt and restless physicality. There is much to intrigue, and plenty to question in Robert Icke’s production but Scott brings fresh clarity and nuance to the familiar poetry, wandering through the intimate space of the Almeida Theatre, his desperate grief mixed with wry humour.

The decision to set the play in an affluent, contemporary world (not too far from the Almeida), sharpens Hamlet’s addresses to the audience and reminds us how close we are to the plays concerns. Giant screens above the stage show CCTV footage of the corridors of Elsinore, International News broadcasts as well as real time footage of the Royals. During the play within the play, when they sit just in front of the audience to watch, we are caught in the shot as well - our privacy invaded for just a moment. It’s in these glaring lights that Hamlet is collapsing, incapable of acting on his personal grievance, while conscious of being at the centre of a much larger political crisis. He questions his own sanity and the world’s honesty, an individual at the centre of a public storm.

There is some inspired casting and implied back-stories that offer new perspectives on Hamlets relationships. In particular female Guildenstern (played by Amaka Okafor) works beautifully and the physical relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet makes perfect sense in this contemporary setting. Some of the cast mumble the lines in pursuit of naturalism but Juliet Stevenson gives a master-class in verse speaking. Her Gertrude is warm and gentle, as the true physical horror of the situation she is in slowly dawns on her. By the final act, there is a powerful sense that she chooses takes the poisoned cup, not only to save her son but to escape the nightmare.

Icke’s Elsinore is a sanitised world, with effective use of bugging and video surveillance - no wonder Hamlet hates it there and trusts no one. But in the final (usually) bloody act where chaos ensues and the mess of humanity leaves our hero wrecked and his world obliterated, it’s a risky decision to keep it clean. The sliding glass doors of the ‘palace’ become the gates of heaven through which each dead character passes to join the slow motion party on the other side. Only Hamlet and Horatio are left on an almost empty stage as Fortinbras makes his speech on the Danish News, screened overhead. It’s a clinical conclusion that sucks the heat out of the tragedy.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan
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