My hope for any production of Hamlet is that it eschew a sense of reverence for its own work, and get on with the business of entertaining the audience. The Royal National Theatre Company's current production does just that. It is a fast-moving, lucid version of a great drama with action that beguiles the eye and words that linger in the mind; a real crowd-pleaser.
Next for consideration is inevitably the lead performance, notoriously a minefield for the untutored or unskilled. Such adjectives cannot be applied to Simon Russell Beale, an actor with presence, a fine voice and a mastery of technique. His is an interpretation in depth - but there is a qualification: Mr Beale looks like a rather tubby, middle-aged man, trailing behind him the sense of a younger, thinner Hamlet striving to get out who, with the same gifts, would achieve a more formidable portrayal. It is a handicap which denies him the summit of this actors' Everest, impressive though he is.
That is my only serious reservation about an evening of dramatic riches. The acting generally, and the articulation and delivery of the wonderful lines, are out of the top drawer. Peter McEnery's corrupt, intelligent Claudius is the best I have seen, as is Denis Quilley's Polonius, funny like a fox. Guy Lankester is a spirited Laertes, and Cathryn Bradshaw a different, very effective Ophelia.
John Caird's direction marshals his forces to conquering effect, with the benefit of Tim Hatley's design which greatly facilitates scene changes and general mobility. The final scene with Fortinbras has been dropped, but that has become an optional extra, and is not missed. This is a major Festival offering.
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