RSC Hamlet – review
Royal Shakespeare Theatre; Stratford upon Avon

Published: Thursday, April 7, 2016 10:00 AM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Ariyon Bakare and Janet Suzman in Dream of The Dog Hamlet Production Photos by Manuel Harlan © 2016

From a discursive Polonius played by Cyril Nri, to a stately Gertrude courtesy of Tanya Moodie, the casting is superb. But as the eponymous hero, Paapa Essiedu excels.

The RSC’s latest Hamlet (see listing) starring Paapa Essiedu (read interview) is an intuitive and responsive telling of the Prince’s tragedy. An exceptional cast and creative team present the feudal tale of murder, revenge and unravelling senses with a modern day outlook. The play’s contemporary setting complete with backpackers and bongs combined with the African backdrop brings a fresh energy to the tale.


Most notably, it highlights the Dane’s sense of displacement and the increasing sense of being stuck between two worlds. Adolescence and adulthood, Prince and King, son and lover. In Simon Godwin’s interpretative production, Hamlet’s manic transformation seems all the more authentic. Our hero’s trials are many; the pressures of office, marriage prospects and not least the charge of avenging his father’s death. This dexterous production encourages us to consider the psychological effects of Hamlet’s burdens. As blood is spilt and the plot grows increasingly thicker we wonder whether the prince is truly mad north-north-west or merely the victim of circumstance.


Ariyon Bakare and Janet Suzman in Dream of The Dog Hamlet Production Photos by Manuel Harlan © 2016

the RSC continues to create plays with fresh vigour from unexplored perspectives. This is the quintessential 21st century Dane.

The power of Shakespeare’s writing is its ability to transcend time and place. But it remains the obligation of theatre makers to keep classic work accessible and dynamic. Mission accomplished. This Elsinore designed by Paul Wills is alive with vivid African prints, hip swaying dance scenes and djembe drum rhythms. This context is especially stirring in the scene where Hamlet first encounters his father’s ghost. Ewart James Walters materialises from the stage in a hazy mist to the quickening drum beats. Revealing his betrayal in tremulous tones, he looks every inch the monarch in vibrant kente cloth. The ensemble scenes are wildly energetic. The players, sent for to relieve Hamlet from his melancholy, traverse the stage in colourful costumes with playful choreography designed by Mbulelo Ndabeni.


From a discursive Polonius played by Cyril Nri (read interview), to a stately Gertrude courtesy of Tanya Moodie (read interview), the casting is superb. But as the eponymous hero, Paapa Essiedu excels. The young actor brings a nonchalance to the role, a derisive disinterest so typical of the hipster generation. His deteriorating mental state is demonstrated by accelerated reactions and frenetic body language. Essiedu’s Hamlet is no Byronesque stargazer in tights. He is a cynical scholar, challenging all to confront him as he brandishes a can of spray paint. Yet this sardonic Prince of Denmark has depth, his soliloquies performed with genuine emotion. His rendition of the famous “To be, or not to be” monologue powerfully conveys the existential crisis of a young man deciding his place in the world.


Ariyon Bakare and Janet Suzman in Dream of The Dog Hamlet Production Photos by Manuel Harlan © 2016

The play’s contemporary setting complete with backpackers and bongs combined with the African backdrop brings a fresh energy to the tale.

The authenticity of this production is magnificent. Godwin’s fluid direction allows the plot to evolve organically and the players to express their characters insightfully. Other notable performances include Nathalie Simpson as Ophelia, her frenzied descent into madness is both unnerving and tragic. Also Horatio played by Hiran Abeysekera has an upbeat innocence which makes his onstage dynamic with Hamlet deeply engaging. Having been celebrating the Bard’s work since 1875, the RSC continues to create plays with fresh vigour from unexplored perspectives. This is the quintessential 21st century Dane.



Info: RSC Hamlet is at Stratford Upon Avon until August 13, 2016 | Book tickets


Related links

Paapa Essiedu – interview, RSC Hamlet




join our mailing list
* indicates required
Get regular updates on what's happening in the world of African-Caribbean theatre and win theatre tickets.

ENTER YOUR DETAILS BELOW: