BBC Culture in Quarantine: Hamlet at the RSC Online
“More matter, with less art.” Gertrude’s proclamation in Act 2 is strikingly out of place in Simon Godwin’s colourful adaption of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The bold aesthetics of Godwin’s production never overwhelm the emotional complexity at the centre of the play. In fact, the vibrancy and colour of the performance add life to the dark tale, accentuating its finer details and injecting it with new, fresh energy.
For those in need of a spot of culture during quarantine, the BBC is bringing six recordings of the most exciting, boundary-pushing adaptions of Shakespeare’s plays to iPlayer. Godwin certainly didn’t hold back in turning Hamlet into a performance like you’ve never seen before: cool militarism is juxtaposed with bright patterns; spray paint, helicopters and guns update the story; drums both push the play on urgently and uplift the melancholy mood.
No beat is missed in crafting the unique and spirited atmosphere of Godwin’s Afro-Denmark. He strikes the perfect balance between a militarised state and an Eden of culture and freedom. Politics, which are so often central to Shakespeare’s tragedies, here form part of the rich, dynamic setting – vital to the play as a whole but never taking centre stage. This is a dynamic exploration of Hamlet’s emotions, his journey in and out of madness.
Paapa Essiedu gives to Hamlet an energy and excitement which lean towards both innocence and madness. He captures feeling without melodrama, despair without hysteria. Esseidu’s performance is measured, masterful, and not unduly chaotic, striking the perfect combination of mourning, emotion and youth.
I imagine the atmosphere amongst the audience to be alive with excitement and a brewing suspense. The bright pinks, greens and yellows in the costumes and staging lend themselves nicely to the screen recording. The camera captures perfect images of the stage as a whole – the blocking all the more purposeful and unified by the marriage of colour, space and atmosphere. Seamless transitions from scene to scene, the slick delivery of quick-moving dialogue, and the almost choreographed, dance-like movement of the actors contribute to an ethereal fluidity that is vital to the aesthetic of the performance as a whole.
This performance offers comic relief, always with a melancholy twist. As Hamlet becomes more chaotic, so does the fusion of humour and drama. Godwin tastefully makes death amusing, increasingly contrasting the dark and light of the play as his vibrant production becomes more and more subdued. This is a refreshing take on Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, a magnificent explosion of colour and emotion, an absolute delight to watch.