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Hamlet at the Old Vic

Crystal Lindsay

Ben Whishaw is truly the student prince in Trevor Nunn’s new production; it has never seemed clearer that Youth will bear the brunt of the play’s chief protagonist.

From the moment Hamlet's father returns to shadow him, reading almost as the Devil's advocate, Death defines the purpose and demands the reason.

Whishaw makes something confessional out of his soliloquies. From the audience, it looks as though it is his own family which represents the Great Divide between the young man's ideals and treachorous reality. The modern day dress is certainly black and white: Hamlet alone dressed in black beany and combats; the rest almost out of an 80's Eurotrash drama in cream and gold.

Gertrude and Claudius are curiously stagey: Imogen Stubbs delivers a performance both knowing and girlish, in which her new love extends her summer only for it to swiftly wither as her son's raw uncovering truths bring a new age of disillusion. Dissolution too: she is soon swigging the bottle at her dressing table and it will not be long before Ophelia is there too, masking her own losses in a mad excitement of lipstick and powder puffs.

Samantha Whittaker as Ophelia is an actress still attending her English literature course and she conveys a much more artful girl than we are used to, playing up to her father with the confidence of one well-loved by the men she has yet known. It sits well however, with this more decadent world and shows up the perpetual vulnerability of youth, where the first steps taken into adulthood are always taken alone.

Hamlet's sexuality is very ambiguous here: his friendship with his fellows does, as always, give him his most happy moments but there is little sense that Ophelia is important to him.

Nicholas Jones as Polonius is terrific: Jones' Jeremy Aldermarten from Kavanagh QC has provided him with the perfect essence of the stuffy, devious and lovable bore and his β€œ plentiful lack of wit” is the cause of much laughter.

The staging is familiar Danish territory: granite castle walls and steep staircase; a strange contrast with the modern context. Actors' silhouettes loom ominously as if they were actions foreshadowed and foretold. The dreadful progress of the drama – a Russian doll of inevitability – is led with great vitality by Whishaw who speaks his words – words as familiar to us as human separation – with a naturalness that renews the tale.

Hamlet continues at the Old Vic Theatre until July.
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