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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Brown-Findlay’

You can spot a Robert Icke production within moments of it beginning. The use of live and recorded video, an atmospheric soundscape, contemporary songs placed appropriately, striking modern settings. It doesn’t always work for me, but on this occasion everything comes together to make this a brilliant Hamlet. Even the verse sounded like contemporary everyday speech.

We start and end with Danish news footage of the King and Hamlet’s funerals respectively. We’re with security staff watching the ghost in the castle on CCTV. Polonius is wired up when he goes to see Hamlet. When the players give us their play, the royal household join us in the audience where they are being filmed, so we can watch their reactions on screen as well as the play on stage. The same idea is used even more effectively for the fencing match. Ophelia’s burial scene is devastating. It unfolds like the Scandinavian thriller it is. Even the two intervals are perfectly positioned.

Andrew Scott’s soliloquies are restrained and understated, contrasting brilliantly with his rage and anger. It’s a stunning performance with an extraordinary emotional range, but he’s surrounded with a fine set of supporting performances too. Juliet Stevenson is superb as Gertrude, torn between her son and her new husband. Angus Wright is a brilliantly ice cold, defiant Claudius. Peter Wight is excellent as Polonius, with a fine Ophelia from Jessica Brown-Findlay and a passionate Laertes from Luke Thompson. This is a simply terrific cast.

At 3 hours 50 minutes it’s one of my longest Hamlets, but also one of the most gripping I’ve ever seen. The third of my late February four Shakespeare play binge. Probably sold out but look out for a transfer of a cinema relay.

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It’s clearly going to be my Year of the Greeks. We’re not even half-way through and this is my 5th, and it’s the first of 3 in the Almeida Greeks season. I’ve seen lots of Greek tragedies, but this trilogy has passed me by (apart from an adaptation of one segment recently). I never saw the iconic Peter Hall production at the NT as I’d only just moved to London, was unemployed and hadn’t really got into theatre-going anyway. Director Robert Icke’s new version is contemporary and radical, with a 3 hour playing time, and I thought it worked brilliantly.

This paragraph may be considered a spoiler (of a 2500 year old tale based on Greek mythology!) – Orestia tells the story of Agamemnon, his wife Clytemnestra and children Elektra, Orestes and Iphigenia. Agamemnon sacrifices his youngest daughter Iphigenia to the gods before leading the Greek army in the Trojan War. Whilst he’s away, his wife moves his cousin / her lover Aegisthus in and when he returns she kills him in revenge for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Orestes, encouraged by his sister Elektra, returns from self-imposed exile to avenge the death of his father by killing his mother and her lover.

Icke appears to have added the pre-war events to Aeschylus, so we see a happy family before Iphigenia’s death, the torment Agamemnon goes through, the sacrifice itself and his departure to war. This gives the plays better context and the normality and happiness of family mealtimes heightens the subsequent tragedy. The ghosts of deceased characters occasionally return and Orestes appears throughout, even when in exile, being ‘interviewed’ about events now passed by what at first appears to be a counsellor or therapist, with a hint of false memory syndrome. This makes sense in the final ‘courtroom’ scene when everything unravels like a detective story. In this final scene, the references to the position of men and women in society feel ever so modern.

The production’s default style is cold, clinical and somewhat austere and there are many long pauses, which makes the outbursts of emotion much more dramatic, moving and occasionally terrifying. They even integrate the need for good timekeeping (it’s 3.5 hours with precisely 28 minutes of breaks!) with the breaks announced, clocks audibly ticking down and ushers issuing reminders. The use of music is terrific, with God Only Knows heard more than once and Nick Lowe’s The Beast in Me a real surprise (to a Lowe fan like me).

Angus Wright and Lia Williams are terrific as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra (Wright also plays his ghost and his cousin Aegisthus, which may be why I thought this character’s part had been reduced). Luke Thompson was hugely impressive as a very passionate Orestes. I could hardly believe it was Jessica Brown-Findlay’s stage debut as Elektra, such was her command of the role.  Young actors Eve Benioff Salama as Iphigenia and Ilan Galkoff as the young Orestes were marvellous.

When I booked this for the evening after Everyman I hadn’t thought that I was pairing two morality plays written 2000 years apart. Both have taken ancient material and made them completely relevant for a 21st century audience. Thrilling stuff.

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