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Hamlet (Young Vic Theatre)

(seen at the afternoon performance on 30th October 2021)

To get the apologies out of the way first: the monkey has never knowingly seen Cush Jumbo in anything she has done on stage or screen. Second, it snorted a little at Greg Hersov’s programme article stating that he didn’t know whether any of the three texts he studied was the one the Bard intended. Well, we don’t know if any of it was, really.

As it turns out, Mr Hersov has done a superb job of piecing together what he wants to use. As texts into acting scripts go, this is one of the best. A lovely contemporary feel with a few nice insertions of language and music.

Problem is, he does insist rather on splitting the play decisively into scenes, matching the informative synopsis in the programme. For the monkey, the best productions of “Hamlet” flow as if they are poured by a director, rather than laid brick by brick. This one didn’t do that so well as the script might well allow. Partly the monkey ascribes it to decisions to finish most scenes with a blackout, partly that the standard of verse speaking was quite wide. Some scenes played with naturalistic dialogue rhythm, others with full regard to iambic pentameter.

Anna Fleischle provides another marvellous set, the feel of both the Globe’s thrust stage yet the intimacy of a proscenium. Irritatingly, it is populated by far fewer actors than is usual in a “Hamlet” cast, and the result is something approaching a small-scale touring event rather than a major fringe revival.

Joseph Marcell and Jonathan Ajayi

There are some notable performances. The Polonius family – Joseph Marcell (Polonius), Jonathan Ajayi (Laertes),

Norah Lopez Holden

Norah Lopez Holden (Ophelia) are a delight, Holden’s sniggering at Marcell’s advice to Ajayi a highlight, the gold card a neat touch.

Adrian Dunbar

Adrian Dunbar (Claudius) and Tara Fitzgerald (Gertrude) are a toned-down royal pair, he is oddly detached, slightly hipster. She is overshadowed, taking her place in the ranks of royal power when she can - mainly when he isn’t looking.

A word too for Leo Wringer (Gravedigger), reggae loving comic,

Raz Skylar and Jona Borja

and also double-act Raz Skylar and Jona Borja as a knockabout selfie-stealing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. 

On to Cush Jumbo. One cool actor, seemingly taking the title role in her stride. More disturbed adolescent than on a journey of discovery, thought has gone into her big speeches. At other times there is a tendency to react rather than seize an initiative. This is a passive boychild blown by the winds of fate, little hint of a grand scheme yet somehow able to manipulate events even so.

A solid enough production, but somehow not quite strong enough to avoid noting that the benches need re-padding if we have to sit on them for almost 2 hours before getting a break. Which sums it up, really.

3 stars.


Photo credit: Helen Murray. Used by kind permission of the Young Vic Theatre.

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