It is far from unjust to say that Hamlet is as famous as the Bard himself. The second most reproduced text in history behind the King James Bible is one ingrained in my mind as the greatest play ever written. The Globe’s website rightly states that the play ‘encompasses political intrigue and sexual obsession, philosophical reflection and violent action, tragic depth and wild humour’. As one of those theatregoers who can recite most of the play along with the performers, I was ecstatic to receive my ticket as a belated birthday present. I was understandably eager to see the world’s greatest tragedy performed at the home of Shakespeare in London: was it to be, or not to be?
Standing in the pit waiting for the performance to start, the beauty of the packed theatre was awe-inspiring. Thanks to the British summer, it was easy to feel included in the freezing cold of the Danish winter with Peter Bray, Tom Lawrence and Matthew Romain, and when Michael Benz entered as the eponymous prince, the chill in the air was palpable. The explosive energy of Hamlet’s madness transfixed the audience, as Benz almost danced around the stage in his Victorian long johns. His contempt for his mother’s unusually evident concern came to a typically Freudian head in the infamous ‘closet scene’, the tension and intimacy of which was heightened by the use of a lone chair onstage. Benz’s Hamlet had an arrogance to him that lessened the sympathy one felt for the wronged Prince and in the fencing of the final scene, Hamlet’s inevitable demise made for a wince-inducing irony to Benz’s repartee.
Dickon Tyrrell’s Claudius and Ghost cut two strikingly different yet equally imposing figures on the stage. Miranda Foster brought a refreshing and fearful need for her son’s compliance to an intelligent Gertrude, who is too often played as weak and oblivious. The ‘play within a play’ scene was performed brilliantly by the seven of the eight-strong cast, and spotlighted directors Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst’s awareness of comedy alongside tragedy, whilst it reduced the audience to rapturous laughter. Benz was the only performer to maintain one role, a fine way of involving the audience with a character known for his intense psychological process and isolation. Christopher Saul introduced suddenness to Polonius that intensified his sinister role in the machinations of the play. Carlyss Peer exhibited an endearing purity to one of the most tragic female figures in literature, Ophelia. Watching her bare feet and floating summer dress, as well as her musical voice and wide-eyed performance, one could not help but feel a heart-wrenching sympathy for the aristocratic girl whose heart is broken by the man who later murders her father.
Unfortunately, the Jacobean design of the performance space did not gel well with the presence of helicopters, jets, and sirens, but the performers at the Globe are clearly well practiced with these twenty-first century phenomena. Despite the gloomy cold of London in June, Shakespeare’s Globe and its company more than lived up to the outstanding reputation that it so clearly deserves.
It is a shame that Hamlet was only touring until 1st September, but I would urge anyone to go to the Globe and see the last few performances of the season. All who go are certainly in for a real treat.