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Theatre review: Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester

PAUL FOLEY enjoys the buzz as Maxine Peake leads a sterling performance

Rating: 3/5

 

There has been a real buzz around Manchester over the last few months and it’s not been the prospect of Van Gaal reverting to a straight back four or the anticipation of Radamel Falcao pinging in the goals. 

The excitement surrounds Salford’s own superstar Maxine Peake leading the line in a Royal Exchange Shakespearean production. 

The theatre’s well known for its interesting and innovative treatments of Shakespeare and having Peake play Hamlet certainly ensures a different approach to the work. 

Peake is not the first woman to play the Danish prince. Sarah Bernhardt starred in the role in 1899, Frances De La Tour’s Hamlet in 1980 had a strong anti-Thatcher slant and even Eleanor Marx had a go in one of the family theatricals. 

Peake delivers a quality performance, nailing her own individual interpretation of the young prince, capturing his vulnerability and immaturity as he descends into madness. 

She’s aided by director Sarah Frankcom, who’s gone for a stripped-back production which adds to the relentlessly bleak atmosphere. 

The only modicum of lightness is the wonderful Gillian Bevan as the sharp-suited spin  doctor Polonia, who wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of  The Thick Of It. John Shrapnel as Claudius also catches the eye with a quiet and understated performance as the king which has real menace. 

Yet while the acting is first-rate, the occasional clunkiness in the staging deprives the play of some of its emotional power. 

Whether this is due to the decision to focus purely on the young prince rather than the wider political context, or whether there is an inherent structural fault in the play itself, is open to question.

But there is much to admire in this production and yet again the Royal Exchange bring a refreshingly different perspective to Shakespeare. 

 

Runs until October 25, box office: royalexchange.co.uk

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