Cush Jumbo is excellent, and there’s a great Ophelia, but do we really need another Hamlet? Three hours plus at the Young Vic will soon tell you
“The time is out of joint”
At the risk of sounding like Brenda from Bristol, my initial reaction to hearing of another “highly-anticipated production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy” is rarely one of too much excitement. But the Young Vic’s Hamlet has quite the trump card up its sleeve, in the return of Cush Jumbo to the theatrical stage after nailing transatlantic TV success in shows like The Good Fight.
It is 10 years or so now since getting to see Jumbo fairly regularly at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, her talent obvious to see even then in productions of As You Like It and Pygmalion. And with frequent collaborator Greg Hersov at the helm, it is little surprise that her presence here is nigh on revelatory, a high-wattage performance that electrifies the play almost anew.
The trouble is is that it ain’t a one-Dane-show, and there’s more than three hours of running time here that isn’t always filled with the same level of Bard-storming brilliance. Norah Lopez Holden comes close, with a truly affecting and effectual performance as an Ophelia, doing so much to build a connection with this gender-blind Hamlet that convinces and therefore crushes when it all goes tits up.
But Adrian Dunbar is a bit flat as Claudius, rather marooned by the lack of specificity of this vaguely contemporary Elsinore. And Tara Fitzgerald’s Gertrude also struggles against a production that doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to do with its elders, stripping so much of its politics away as it hones in on the grief of it all. Creatively, Anna Fleischle’s set similarly has its highs and lows, none more so apparent than in the evocation and eventual manifestation of the Ghost.