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Monty Leigh

REVIEW: HAMLET at the Hackney Empire

Hamlet Hackney Empire This expansive production of Hamlet fills every inch of the fantastic Hackney Empire with its elaborate colours and booming attitude. Set in West Africa, Designer Paul Wills has truly made this production a feast for the eyes, with the stage wrapped in drapes of patterned wax fabric and brilliant performers who play drums while the lighting allows us to live in this warm atmosphere.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet follows the story of Prince Hamlet seeking revenge on his uncle Claudius who he suspects of killing his father to take the throne and marry his mother. He is plagued by visions of his father to take vengeance. Paapa Essiedu is surprisingly the first black man to play Hamlet at the RSC, and his performance is astonishingly fresh that he draws the ye each time he inhabits the stage with his spikey and youthful presence. In this production, Hamlet has returned from his time in a European University to come back to a home he does not recognise nor agree with, where he descends into his rebellion.

This production is very different in the way it approaches Hamlet’s madness; there is a lot more humour in the situation. Esseidu’s Hamlet becomes somewhat of a modern-day prophet who uses spray paint to create epic canvasses with snakes and skulls adorning them; which he puts on display. There is an arrogance and superiority in his madness, which could arguably relate to many idols we have in our society today. He is not the usual respected philosopher, he is more of a rebellious young man with an attitude and a can of spray paint. This is a wonderfully fresh take on the character, and despite the difference, Esseidu’s Hamlet still comes across just as truly mad as previous interpretations.

In fact, this production of Hamlet is widely more humorous than most, with Opheila (Mimi Ndiweni) and Laertes (Buom Tihngang) bantering together about her chastity, as she sneaks into his bag to find reams of condoms. Lord Polonius, played by the charismatic Joseph Mydell, has the audience laughing constantly as he plays Polonius as the bumbling embarrassing father with meandering dialogue.

Overall, the production has a dusty, menacing feel, and has an incredibly vibrant and unique energy. I was hooked throughout, and if anything more will persuade you – go and see this production just to witness Essiedu’s meticulously crafted Hamlet.