It was Shakespeare last night, but with a definite twist. Director Ian Rickson, Designer Jeremy Herbert and superlative actor Michael Sheen have brought a very different Hamlet to the Young Vic stage and, for me, it works perfectly.
It’s not often that you enter a theatre by a completely different route, but as soon as the production started, I perfectly understood why it is the case here. Initially the meandering walk to the auditorium was rather disconcerting and I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. But that’s presumably the point. Then the play began and all was revealed. If no-one has set Hamlet in a present day mental hospital before, one wonders why not, for it actually makes perfect sense and illustrates so well the age old question, is it all in Hamlet’s mind?Mind you, the whole effect is helped by the fact that Michael Sheen is quite brilliant. He captures all the mental torment, imbuing the man with warmth, torment, sadness, anger and moments of maniacal laughter, making him totally and utterly believable. I’ve read that he “is increasingly repulsed by acting”, meaning acting as opposed to reacting and he certainly practices what he preaches. Another bonus is that he speaks the lines so wonderfully that there were times when I felt the script had been updated; no need to concentrate to understand the meaning here, everything is perfectly clear. How lucky are the students studying Hamlet who get the chance to see this production.
I also hugely enjoyed the performances by Vinette Robinson as Ophelia, Michael Gould as Polonius and James Clyde as Claudius, whilst not quite understanding the decision to make Horatio and Rosencrantz female and casting Benedict Wong as Laertes. For me, it didn’t quite work but, no matter, everything else hit the button and I was captivated as soon as I entered the shabby auditorium, complete with basketball net! The moments of high drama, surprising technical effects and complete black outs, kept me in that state right to the very end.
No need to compare this version of Hamlet with the recent high profile productions starring Jude Law, David Tenant and Rory Kinnear. It stands alone.