It may have taken two days of queuing for tickets at the Young Vic Theatre but Ian Rickson’s latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy was definitely worth waiting for. Most recently acclaimed for the award-winning Jerusalem, Rickson has taken the rotten state of Denmark into a psychologically-charged, Freudian dream world where the audience are thrust into a white-walled theatre ‘cell’ and tossed around as characters run, jump, clamber and fall to their inevitable demises.
One of this adaptation’s central successes lies in the choice of actor Michael Sheen as the troubled Prince of Denmark. Already big fans of Sheen, we were excited to see how the man who had tackled the roles of politicians, football managers and comic actors, would approach one of the most notorious male characters in the history of theatre. Topped with (pretty sexy) unkempt locks, Sheen weaves in and out of his fellow players with exceptional kineticism, poignant variety in mood, while bringing a consciously haphazard phrasing to the classic Shakespearean verse;
Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant CUNT…………………….try matters?
The play within a play is particularly phallocentric and erotic: at one point an extendable penis is drawn from between one of the player’s legs and brandished towards a blindfolded Queen.
Sheen provides a Hamlet who is most definitely turned inwards to question his own sanity, and our own, which the cold stone and metal psychiatric unit setting deeply contributes to. Indeed, Sheen also takes the part of the deceased King Hamlet; a growling bark of the urgent Ghost emerging between the Prince’s speeches while hospital alarm bells sound and harsh strip lighting flickers threateningly.
Although there have been comments that Sheen’s performance somewhat steals the show, you do not lose sight of the rest of the cast. Claudius, played by James Clyde, takes on the approach of a suited, smooth operator head of the institution, while his queen (Sally Dexter) seems as though she is regulated by the unit’s entire supply of Prozac; unbalanced yet eerily mesmerizing. The only disappointment for us was Vinette Robinson’s attempt at Ophelia, who continuously over-articulated her lines and whose singing reminded one less of an emotional disturbed young woman than a Kate Nash impersonator straddling a wheelchair. However, this could not distract from the overall brilliance and originality of Rickson’s view of this classic play.
Day tickets are available for Hamlet at the Young Vic Theatre until January 21st
66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ