Review: IZZARD HAMLET, Riverside Studios

Eddie Izzard's one-person Hamlet is a solo tour de force.

By: May. 29, 2024
Review: IZZARD HAMLET, Riverside Studios
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Review: IZZARD HAMLET, Riverside Studios To go solo, or not to go solo? That is the question.

At a time when marathon, one-person shows are all the rage ­– think Andrew Scott, Sarah Snook and Isabelle Huppert for starters – trans stand-up and actor Eddie Izzard joins the throng.

Not a stranger to actual marathons (running 32 marathons in 31 days), she takes to Riverside Studios' stage with gusto, playing 23 characters in an abridged Hamlet adapted by Izzard's brother Mark. Mark also adapted Great Expectations as a lone vehicle for Izzard last year.

It's quite a feat to perform an entire Shakespearean play on your own, especially in a version with no props, only one costume – jaunty black jacket, leather leggings, boots and a great deal of red lipstick – and a stark set.

Tom Piper's modernist Elsinore resembles the British Museum, cold and mighty in cream-coloured stone, with a couple of levels where Izzard stuts her stuff: whirling, spinning and turning rapidly from one character to another.

Instead of the usual tricks of the trade, like props and costumery, director Selina Cadell relies on bewitching lighting design by Tyler Elich, poignant music from Eliza Thompson and Izzard's verve to make the show work.

Review: IZZARD HAMLET, Riverside Studios

Izzard certainly displays a great deal of panache. Her talent as a stand-up comes to the fore, talking conversationally to the audience in the moment and getting everyone on side immediately.

Her comic timing couldn't be better, which makes for some amusing highlights, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern portrayed as invisible sock puppets (this takes talking to the hand to a new level) and wry ad libs like Hamlet's reference to Polonius ("tedious old git").

Izzard stumbles over her lines every so often (there are a lot of lines to remember, to be fair), but after runs off Broadway and in Chicago, you'd think she'd have them down pat by now. She recovers and moves on admirably, however, so you have to applaud the courage to take on this bold project.

This is definitely Shakespeare on speed. Izzard barely draws breath. The pace is dizzying and exhilarating. So exhilarating, I wished that sometimes it had slowed down a tad so I could find time to feel more emotion and passion.

However, Izzard excels as a dastardly Claudius, a touching Ophelia (highly commendable, as even the best actresses have struggled with this rather thin role) cheeky Cockney gravediggers and a Hamlet driven to madness. Flash switches from one character to another proves to be a useful technique to emphasise Hamlet's crumbling sanity.

Although Izzard doesn't quite pull this off, it's still a solo tour de force. I'd recommend taking a young person, as this is a great introduction to the works of the Bard ­– although you might need to explain the plot so they know what the hell is going on. The running time is two hours and twenty minutes (with an interval), a bearable amount of time for a first-timer.

Despite some of its flaws, Izzard Hamlet is pure storytelling. You can imagine hearing someone tell you this tale while sitting round a campfire. You're right there with Izzard, a lone figure on stage who makes Hamlet real and vital.

Izzard Hamlet runs at Riverside Studios until June 30

Photo credit: Amanda Searle


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