Hamlet ★★★★ Guildford Shakespeare Company | Jan 29 - Feb 23, 2022


Hamlet is like a Chinese puzzle which seems to mirror every age, especially in times of doubt. The eponymous Prince trembles on the edge of maturity and Freddie Fox interprets this superbly: he's not as funny as some but he delivers the lines – and the thinking behind the lines – beautifully. The acoustic in this huge and handsome church can be difficult but Fox overcomes the problem and we hear every mellifluous word. The great soliloquies are delivered as if freshly minted. Hamlet is too complex a play to simplify; it can be in danger of imploding. Happily, virtually all the trimming needed to reduce the immense play to a manageable length works here. Tom Littler's fine direction is helped by Mark Dymock's subtle, yet frequently dramatic lighting – they allow the play to breathe. Philip d'Orléans' staging of the climactic fight is exciting and stylish. Claudius could perhaps be a more powerful and charismatic orator and Gertrude could exude more animal sexuality, but Noel White and Karen Ascoe put in sterling performances. Not unlike certain leaders of today, Polonius seems to be a buffoon, but this presentation masks a shrewd politician. Stefan Bednarczyk, playing him as a Bishop, is very effective. Good as Rosalind Ford's Ophelia is, she seems rather sidelined. With a lesser Prince the evening would still be good, but Fox raises things to an infinitely higher level. His portrayal is astute enough to make us realise that while politicians lie and cheat, life goes on even in the face of tragedy. This is a cynical and visceral dissection of life with Fox's mercurial Hamlet at its heart. Let's hope he will play the role many more times.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Matt Pereira.

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