Review Roundup: HAMLET at National Theatre


Hamlet, recently opened at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre, featuring Rory Kinnear, Clare Higgins. The production is currently selling tickets through January 9.

Additional cast members include:Clare Higgins (Gertrude), Patrick Malahide (Claudius), David Calder (Polonius), James Laurenson (Ghost/Player King), and Ruth Negga (Ophelia), along with Matthew Barker, Jake Fairbrother, Ferdinand Kingsley, Alex Lanipekun, James Pearse, Saskia Portway, Victor Power, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Nick Sampson, Michael Sheldon, Leo Staar, Zara Tempest-Walters, Giles Terera, and Ellie Turner.

Heather Neill, Hytner's production, with its multicultural cast, is generally admirably clear, snapping quickly from one scene to the next. Only Ophelia's fate raises new questions. She has embarrassed the court with her loud songs and her shopping trolley decorated with her dead father's newspaper photo. But who has ordered her to be hustled away? Is she murdered?

There is a nightmareish quality to the whole production. When this Hamlet thinks twice about suicide because "perchance to dream" is a possibility, he knows from experience about disturbed sleep. But there is a furious jokiness, too; Kinnear's Hamlet may be neurotic, but his madness is mainly political. He chalks a childish smiley face labelled "villain" on the wall as he speaks the relevant words and the image reappears on tee-shirts which he hands out to those coming to watch the play.

David Lister, The Independent: In this world where everything is watched and noted, Patrick Malahide's cold, unremorseful and unrepentant Claudius is utterly convincing as a man who would kill his brother, usurp the crown, and run a state with a mixture of paranoia, steely control, mistrust and snooping that would put Richard Nixon to shame. His henchmen are everywhere. Osric, despite Shakespeare's own direction, is not here a fop, but a weary, efficient enforcer, knowing full well the likely result of the fight he is ordered to arrange between Hamlet and Laertes. Ruth Negga's feisty Ophelia, after she goes mad, is trailed everywhere by two government agents, making one wonder, again for the first time, whether her drowning may have been more than suicide or an accident.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: Kinnear is a strong, clearly-defined Hamlet; but that definition also stems from Hytner's production in which nothing is left to chance. And there is one piece of business that changes one's whole understanding of the play's later stages. In this version, the embarrassingly insane Ophelia (Ruth Negga) does not accidentally drown but is clearly bumped off by Claudius's henchmen. This gives a whole new force to Gertrude's lament over the dead girl which Clare Higgins delivers with fine coded rage as if at last aware of the depths of her husband's depravity.

Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph: Beneath the anger, the bipolar mood swings, and the disguise of madness that Hamlet adopts, Kinnear also discovers a strong sense of morality in the character, and an endearing warmth and humour. No actor can capture the full elusive complexity of Hamlet, but Kinnear often comes thrillingly close.

The young Kinnear is nothing like as famous as his recent predecessors, but I would put him right up there with Tennant when it comes to capturing the humanity, humour, pain and multi-layered complexity of the role.


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