Hamlet, Young Vic Theatre | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Hamlet, Young Vic Theatre
Michael Sheen is riveting as the crazed Danish Prince in Ian Rickson's terrifying psychiatric-hospital staging
First come the strip-lit corridors, the stained breeze blocks, the locked doors; later there are restraints, drugs, needles. The time is out of joint, and we are all imprisoned in a nightmare of confusion, paranoia, guilt and despair. Who are the mad? Who the sane? In Ian Rickson’s thrilling production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, it’s often frighteningly unclear.
This is the director’s first Shakespearean staging and, electrifyingly, he approaches the text without careful reverence, but with the energy and inventive flair he has habitually brought to new plays. It is a distinctly personal, rather than a political, reading, its focus sharply upon the psychological. The result is a drama that, if it neglects other dimensions of the text, has an arresting immediacy: it is about families, and the way their members can damage and destroy one another; it is about the devastation of acute grief, and the terror of mental instability. It views the world through the wild eyes of the Danish Prince – and when that role is given such a sensational performance by Michael Sheen, the vision it presents is riveting.
There is humour, too, in his cunning, his hair-trigger impatience with those around him; and there is great, moving tenderness
Designed by Jeremy Herbert, the production plunges its audience into its disturbing world before we even take our seats. Walking by dead-eyed orderlies, we file through the bowels of the Young Vic building, past cupboards of pills and hospital signage. Finally, we step through a glass-walled office, between two enormous steel doors, and into what appears to be a grim gymnasium. A forlorn basketball hoop hangs on the wall; plastic chairs are arranged as if for a group therapy session. The air is filled with the sound of static and a faint antiseptic smell. Standing over the coffin of his father, atop which rest an earth-smeared greatcoat and a dagger, is Sheen’s stricken Hamlet. He gathers up the coat, inhales its fragrance – the scent, we imagine, of the dead man. Soon, out of thick darkness, King Hamlet will walk again; yet the lights will flicker back into life to reveal the apparition to be not the deceased monarch, but his crazed son himself.
Nothing here can be relied upon. James Clyde’s oily Claudius, and his worryingly perma-smiling new bride, Sally Dexter’s Gertrude, exert a wobbly control over the secure psychiatric hospital Hamlet inhabits. But what of Michael Gould’s Polonius? Tracking Sheen’s Hamlet armed with a dictaphone, on to which he records his observations of the Prince’s behaviour, he seems to be an insensitive medic. But when he loses his train of thought, Gould looks so heartbreakingly bewildered that the thought occurs: is he, perhaps, not a doctor at all, but a fantasist inmate?
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Arthur Miller classic returns to the stage stripped back and stirred up
Trevor Nunn is back on form in a straight production that lets Coward's play do the talking
Politics and cooking coalesce in Syrian-themed solo show
Moscow's theatrical vanguardist talks Shostakovich, Shakespeare and more
The playwright Anya Reiss on modernising Chekhov for Southwark Playhouse
Baz Luhrmann's film has become a musical at last, after a 30-year journey
Women prosper in an unusually egalitarian celebration of London theatre
Inventive site-specific family entertainment reclaims an abandoned dockside customs house
The company director for deaf and disabled performers introduces their collaboration with a Brazilian circus troupe
Looking for a spot of cultural activity for your family this Easter hols?
The meaning of royalty cleverly probed by Mike Bartlett
Emil and the Mormons: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips