August 1, 2022
A committed cast barrels into the Park Avenue Armory with Robert Icke's interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Young and confused, Hamlet (a transformative Alex Lawther) is caught in an existential dilemma when his father dies at the hands of his brother Claudius.
Within two months of that trauma, Hamlet's mother Gertrude (a marvelous Jennifer Ehle) marries Claudius (the stentorian Angus Wright). In a suspended state of indecision, the highly kinetic Hamlet resembles a hummingbird spiriting from one conclusion to another, plotting lethal ruses, and ambiguously tangoing with his love, Ophelia (Kirsty Rider).
Contemporary in look (sets and costumes by Hildegard Bechtler), the language, thankfully, hews to the cadences of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, a rhythm that's said to mimic the heartbeat. Immediately assuming the royal air of a king, Claudius feigns concern for Hamlet and his well being, while simultaneously surveilling his actions.
Constantly tossing himself on and off the sofa, the athletic Hamlet finds a modicum of solace in Ophelia, the lovely and beloved daughter of Horatio. Despite his longing for her embrace, Hamlet senses the oncoming tragedy and cruelly pushes her away suggesting she get herself "to a nunnery," in other words, a protective space. Later in the play, when Ophelia has gone mad, she reappears in a wheelchair. However, as designed, the scene loses some of the ephemeral beauty and melancholy of Ophelia's original haunting song and loosed dance.
Determined to unmask Claudius, Hamlet edits a play to be performed by a traveling theater troupe so it includes a scene where the king is poisoned. After parading to the front row of the audience, the King and Queen are seated while video cameras (designed by Tal Yarden) hone-in on the on-stage actors and royals' reactions. Visibly disturbed, Claudius charges out of the theater confirming Hamlet's suspicions originally seeded by the ghost of his father.
At this point, the jig is up, and deaths abound. Intent on proving Hamlet's loose grasp on reality, the fleshy, pompous Horatio hides behind a curtain in Gertrude's room. When Hamlet agitatedly confronts his mother, he suspects a trespasser and pierces the curtain with his sword killing Horatio.
Returning to avenge his father, Laeretes (Luke Treadaway) plots with Claudius to eliminate Hamlet with a poisoned sword tip. Surprising everyone with his fencing skills, Hamlet kills Laeretes, and witnesses his mother drinking a goblet of poisoned wine intended for him. Struck by Laeretes' poisoned tip, and soon to die himself, Hamlet finally eliminates Claudius.
Running nearly 3 hours and 40 minutes, Icke's streamlines Hamlet through the clarity of the staging as well as the actors' immaculate enunciation and natural inhabitation of the story. In particular, Icke's impetuous Hamlet looks like a young, contemporary man who speaks Elizabethan English as if it were his first language. Gone is the artifice and posturing.
The Park Avenue Armory and Almeida Theatre Production of Hamlet create a perfect introduction to this classic and a revelation for Hamlet aficionados.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipoitis