Review: Maxine Peake as Hamlet – Shakespeare ****

Maxine Peak as 'Hamlet' a stripped-bare version of Shakespeare's most versatile tragedy at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
Maxine Peak as ‘Hamlet,’ a stripped-bare version of Shakespeare’s most versatile tragedy at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Maxine Peake as ‘Hamlet, which opened at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester last year, is currently touring the UK. Cinema versions are also to tour other countries.

I watched this minimalist, cross-dressed version on television last night. When you cannot afford to go to the theatre much (and us Brits love theatre) Sky Arts is such a godsend.

"To be or not to be..."
“To be or not to be…”

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, the tragedy of this Danish Prince is the most versatile to interpret. Each actor makes Hamlet their own. Stripped to the bare-bones of any set, costumes, props and the cast playing different sexes, races, ages and sometimes more than one role, actors need to be outstandingly good to hold the audience’s attention. All were obviously cast for their amazing ability to act. Not one had help, in their resemblance nor voice, to the traditional characters often played. We had to suspend our disbelief, which could be hard work. As such, this is not one for those unfamiliar with the story.

Synopsis: After murdering his own brother, King Hamlet, the devious Claudius succeeds him to the throne and even marries his widow, Gertrude. Prince Hamlet seeks revenge and sets about to overthrow his evil uncle, which results in tragedy.

Best see Kenneth Branagh’s film version first; then read to play. This is one for Mancunians and those who have seen endless versions. On stage, Benedict Cumberbatch, June Law, Rory Kinnear, David Tennant and Michael Sheen have all played Hamlet recently to varying critical acclaims.

Peake is certainly a star – charismatic and compelling in her fast-paced, fresh and angry-youth interpretation. She is well-deserving of her BAFTA nomination. Full-figured Katie West is not your usual waif-like Ophelia but procures a sense of injustice, Barbara Marten, a little mature in years, comes across more beautiful than voluptuous as Gertude. John Schrapnel, resembling a warm patriarch figure, also had his work cut out to portray the sly Claudius and haunting ghost. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were far from dead in their portrayal by Jodie McNee and Peter Singh. Great performances all round.

4/5 from me.

For the trailer visit: https://youtu.be/q4xVwVwGvPc

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