I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.
David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear.
There are highlights – Luke Norris makes an appealing Laertes, Robin Soans oozes quality as ever as Polonius and Greg Hicks gives the verse-speaking performance of the evening as Claudius and the Ghost. But too often, Slinger’s rage as Hamlet is an all-smothering presence which suffocates the production and the actors around him.