Young Vic – until 13 November 2021
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Cush Jumbo’s magnificent performance as Hamlet is unmissable. If you can’t get to the Young Vic, book for the live stream on 28 – 30 October.
Jumbo’s androgynous Hamlet is dynamic and full of energy; even in the quieter, more reflective moments she has the energy of a tiger ready to spring. She is mesmerising in the famous soliloquies, and effortlessly switches from bullish bravado to childlike helplessness.
In this modern setting, Elsinore’s golden pillars are sumptuous but sterile. Hamlet and his young friends have contemporary mannerisms and accents (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take selfies and vape as they enter the castle) while the more mature characters are more traditionally Shakespearean.
Director Greg Hersov has cut the scenes with Fortinbras, so this play is focussed entirely on the familial drama with the politics taking a back seat. This enhances the portrayal of each character’s struggles with grief and creates a more empathetic production. The cast manage the tragedy and comedy with equal skill – Joseph Marcel has a ball as pompous and pernickety Polonius, and the gravedigging scene is actually funny, with Jumbo nearly slam-dunking poor Yorick’s skull.
Adrian Dunbar plays Claudius as a CEO mounting a hostile takeover, while Tara Fitzgerald’s Gertrude is stoic and blank until events begin to snowball and her façade crumbles. Norah Lopez Holden is astonishing as Ophelia – full of rage as the madness of her grief takes over. When Laertes first sees her in her madness, the gentle interplay between Holden and Jonathan Ajayi is exquisite as he tries to comfort her.
There are many modern touches in this production, but they are not the main selling point. The outstanding cast and superlative lead actor could probably hold an audience spellbound performing this play on a street corner. A masterclass in acting.