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The American masthead


By William Shakespeare
Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1 until November 13 2021
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Published on October 5, 2021

Cush Jumbo Cush Jumbo in Hamlet at The Young Vic – a sensitive, driven Prince. PHOTO: HELEN MURRAY

Back from Hollywood, The Good Wife/The Good Fight star, Cush Jumbo gives us a Hamlet of great intelligence, depth of feeling and humanity. It's a production which is very London, very 'street', but does nothing to undermine the magnetic power of its poetry.

Adrian Dunbar Adrian Dunbar's Claudius has a perfect quality of stillness. PHOTO: HELEN MURRAY

There are numerous ways of cracking Hamlet and interpretations change with the fashions. For a while swashbucklers played him but, being strangers to self-doubt, you never believed for a second that they'd procrastinate about anything. Then there was the therapy approach which runs the gamut from a mild Oedipus complex to stark raving bonkers, but this never worked either because Hamlet is together and self-aware as much as he's disturbed, as demonstrated by the 'antic disposition' speech and his pushing Ophelia away to save her.

The trick for modern Hamlets is to plot a middle course and Cush Jumbo has cracked it here. This is a sensitive Prince but also one who is driven, only to be knocked off course by sudden nature of his father's death. Jumbo's performance runs the gamut from morose, gangly, eternal student (remember Hamlet's 30) to the confident, witty, operator, newly returned from England. Hamlet ends up, in fact, something akin to his much-hated stepfather.

Adrian Dunbar's Claudius is a gloriously grey politician King. Thanks to Line of Duty Dunbar has almost attained national treasure status giving him a new gravitas. He also has a quality of stillness here which is perfect. Claudius is always listening, reading the room, ingratiating himself with the vaping, uber trendy, hipsters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or plotting with those he considers up to his level. Tara Fitzgerald, by contrast, gives us a somnolent Gertrude, one who prefers to be swept along, knowing never to ask too many questions.

Joseph Marcell does a fantastic job in rescuing Polonius from being the usual comic windbag. Instead, we see a wily Mandarin, savouring his brandy and Mozart of an evening, always ready to do any King's bidding, passing on the Amex Gold to Laertes together with the fatherly advice. Jonathan Ajayi perfectly kitted out in the latest threads has a restless virility which is perfect fit for Laertes.

Anna Fleischle's design are stark and simple, no big concepts for the actors to trip over, and her costumes are fashionably 'street', both delineating power relationships and wittily illustrating character.

The Afro Caribbean vibe works a treat too, giving us a spirited Reggae singing gravedigger (Leo Wringer) and some great travelling players.

Greg Hersov directs it all with the ease of a Peter Hall – the verse speaking alone has a pristine clarity to it, the cuts are well judged and the pacing great. At times in the more hectic scenes the blocking falters badly, but still, it retains some beautiful touches. We first meet Ophelia dancing a tender salsa with Hamlet, which illustrates all you need to know about their relationship up till then. Norah Lopez Holden does a sterling job with the role of the hapless, used, Ophelia, making her convincing for today, even with that mad scene.

Joseph Marcell and Jonathan Ajayi Joseph Marcell (Polonius), a wily Mandarin, and Jonathan Ajayi (Laertes) with a restless virility. PHOTO: HELEN MURRAY




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