Hamlet – Crucible Sheffield

Given the glut of Danish princes theatres have experienced recently, it is difficult not to compare one Hamlet against another. Obviously each production is a stand alone product and therefore any comparison is perhaps unfair.

The latest entry into the Hamlet market is John Simm, taking to the Sheffield Crucible stage in his first Shakespearian production. It’s a brave and valiant effort, tackling such a complex role, but one that ultimately proves to be just beyond his grasp.

This isn’t a bad production of Hamlet, but one that leaves the audience thinking ‘so what?’ the much needed chemistry and tension in the piece is sadly lacking in a sterile offering.

The title role is a notoriously complex character for an actor to bring to life, this complexity also offers a multitude of options; the grief-stricken, insane, rebellious, cunning or tormented Hamlet all offering potential takes on the psyche of the prince. It’s not clear what route Simm’ is taking with his portrayal, offering little insight into the tortured mind. The famous soliloquies at times seem little more than a line reading, loosing the chance to build any empathy or understanding.

Obviously Hamlet isn’t a one man show and there are fine performances from John Nettles as Claudius and Michelle Dockerty as Opheila, playing the role with a sweet innocence. Other casting works less well Barbara Flynn’s Gertrude seems strangely unmoved by unfolding events, a same reaction from Tim Delap’s laid back Laertes.

Direction by Paul Miller is strangely static; never making full use of the Crucible’s thrust staging. Tom Scutt’s designs add visual appeal but without much atmosphere. Here is an Elsinore uprooted from Denmark and transposed into a 19th Century grand châteaux.

In the move we loose much of the sense of isolation and courtly tension needed to make Hamlet really come alive.

As stated at the beginning it is unfair to pit productions against each other and perhaps in less of a Dane Fest this production would shine but instead it seems bland and oddly un-engaging.

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