The Royal Shakespeare Company: Hamlet Review | The Lowry | Manchester
"Get thee to a nunnery."
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) have uprooted the Bards longest running play to deliver a contemporary take on the tragedy. In a rich tapestry that combines African, Caribbean and British culture, Simon Godwin successfully reshapes Hamlet in a bright and unexpected direction.
Hamlet returns home from studying abroad to discover his father has died, his mother has remarried his uncle, and his girlfriend is ghosting him. His father’s ghost then appears, revealing that his treacherous uncle Claudius has, in fact, murdered him. Despite seeking vengeance, the young Hamlet struggles with his decisive and divided mind that eventually leads him down a destructive path.
Paul Willis has designed a stylish set that mirrors Hamlet’s tumultuous attitude. With a looming Tetris labyrinth as the shows main background, props are lowered, walls removed, and hidden depths are revealed. The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre shapeshifts from solid black backdrops and deep red spotlights to sherbet splattered graffiti walls. But as Hamlet hovers between truth and illusion, the wooden, natural props and live African percussion keeps the audience firmly grounded.
Embarking on a spiritual journey, the script has been streamlined to focus on the characters motivations, leaving Claudius’ military regime on the back burner. The show flows better for it. Paapa Essiedu achieves a relatable and likable Hamlet whose performance exposes more to the audience through each passing soliloquy. The impressive cast also includes Clarence Smith (Claudius), Buom Tihngang (Laertes) and Mimi Ndiweni (Ophelia) who each carry physically demanding and emotionally draining roles.
The shows modern twists keep tensions high and the comedy fresh. From its paint-splattered framing to its boombox carrying prince of Denmark. The RSC takes bold choices that are richly rewarding to watch and keep the audience engrossed throughout its 180-minute production.