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Theatre Review Making smaller moments grow in stature and meaning

Jumbo’s Hamlet is magnetic – a complicated combination of vulnerability, intelligence, and deep damage by grief, writes KATHERINE M GRAHAM

Hamlet
Young Vic

 

GREG HERSOV’S Young Vic production of Hamlet is a powerful piece of theatre that centres and excavates Shakespeare’s engagement with grief and family.

This is not a production concerned with affairs of the state — it is a production that ends with Jonathan Livingstone’s Horatio weeping onstage, with Fortinbras nowhere to be found.

At the heart of Hersov’s pandemic-delayed piece is Cush Jumbo, the latest to join the list of women who have played Shakespeare’s Danish prince. Jumbo was announced as the lead back in 2019 and her performance is well worth the wait.

Her Hamlet is magnetic — a complicated combination of vulnerability, intelligence, and deep damage caused by grief. Captured beautifully within Jumbo’s androgynous physicality are both the swagger and fragility of youth.

But this is a Hamlet full of strong performances, from Livingstone’s
earnest and thoughtful Horatio to Norah Lopez Holden’s broken Ophelia.

In particular, Joseph Marcell finds a humour and a warmth in Polonius. Here he is a loving and gentle father who quietly demonstrates his affection for his children by touching his forehead to theirs.

The importance of familial touch plays out movingly when Jonathan Ajayi’s Laertes returns to avenge his father Polonius’s murder, and he finds his sister Ophelia driven mad by grief.

Here he reaches out to touch her, but she shrinks away from him — and the pain generated by that refusal of touch is deeply moving.

Under Hersov’s direction, these smaller moments grow in stature and meaning. That’s in part because the violence and blood stays off the stage here — this is a production interested in the after-effects of violence, not in rendering it spectacular.

Runs until November 13. Box office: youngvic.org

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