Thoughts on Hamlet by Mark Topping

My dear Hamlet cast and crew,

This isn’t a review really, more like my post-show thoughts splurged out onto a page. (Maybe that’s what a review is.) But I need to write this because chatting afterwards I couldn’t manage to say much more than, “That was great, that was.. wow! That was - that was… you were really great! That was really… well, great!”

What a great show it was last night. From the moment we started I was gripped. And it never let me go.

Fairly early on I had to check in with myself: Hang on, the words they’re saying are Shakespeare, but I can understand what they’re talking about - what’s going on? It turns out the actors were simply making it supremely accessible. Top work. Thank you for that!

Simon and Paul have done a great job, crafting the play into this new 2-hour shape. It works. It was a really intelligent production. It’s got brains. It’s also got heart. And soul.

It was my first time at the Brewery and (I’m sure like everyone) found it a wonderfully intimate performance space. So up close it was like I was immersed in the production. Such close-up staging is very exposing of course. You can see the stitching. Nothing escapes us. But the great thing is, this Hamlet of yours stands up to the scrutiny.

There were so many really powerful performances. Running through the cast and their individual performances in my mind on my journey home I got to thinking about Ian’s Horatio. What I was impressed by was how he really became for us Hamlet’s loyal friend.

And it struck me: that was what was great about the whole performance; the relationships were all real throughout.

Morgan’s Laertes and Poppy’s Ophelia were truly brother and sister, you had us believing that. You weren’t going through the motions, it was real for us. You were only a few feet away, we could see it. Sense it. And the same with all the relationships in the play; Ophelia and her lover Hamlet, this is genuine (as is her madness), her father’s relationship (Ewan’s Polonius) with his children and theirs with him, and so on. (Incidentally we all love a bumbling, well-meaning Polonius, but I think we all love him quite a bit more now after Ewan’s performance. Polonius has never been cleverer or funnier.)

The emotional engagement from the cast I felt was terrific. Their relationships, their emotions, had real depth and intensity - we were witnessing the real thing, not a sham. That was true throughout the cast and throughout the play, particularly powerful for me in the dynamic between Hamlet, Ophelia and Laertes.

I loved Peter’s Claudius. A forceful, malevolent, and at times lascivious presence on the stage. Great body-language. Really well cast. He was well-supported by Elizabeth, most believable as his conflicted widow-wife (and Hamlet’s fickle mother) Gertrude.

I think Dan’s Hamlet must be the most real, the most human and comprehensible I’ve ever seen.

(But also spine-tinglingly other-worldly when he becomes the ghost of his own father.) A masterful performance throughout, Dan. And you gave us the iconic speeches so naturally and with such skill that you re-fixed them seamlessly back into the context of the play. Excellent.

Simon, Paul and Skye were terrific as narrators and comic relief, cleverly making the most of the audience who were already, in effect, on the stage with them; drawing us even deeper into the action.

I love the original music.

Carl’s sound and lighting is, as you would expect, perfection itself. So good you don’t notice it’s happening: You’re watching Hamlet. Your spine’s tingling. If you disect the moment you discover a whole host of things: It’s Shakespeare, there are some great actor’s at work, and, oh yes, there’s some music and the lighting’s changed…

So thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of the run. It deserves to be a sell out.

Mark Topping Actor & Voiceover

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