Finally, the time has arrived. The Royal Shakespeare Company gives us their first ever black actor playing Hamlet in Simon Godwin's powerful and volatile production.
Director Simon Godwin has decided to set the entire play in an unnamed African dictatorship with powerful and pertinent results. Perhaps it's because the political turmoil in some African countries in recent years, and even now, is still very relevant, but this production brims with powerful politics. One feels that at any moment there could be a coup from any angle. It seems like they may have been a very slyly executed one by Claudius himself, but one also feels that Laertes, Hamlet and even Polonius may be a potential threat to this new Government. Polonius has his comic moments but at times seems to be the man running everything in a George Osborne manner, that makes one feel hat whilst he is a doddery fellow with his quirks and idiosyncrasies he is also the perhaps the bureaucratic power behind the throne. It really puts into focus the idea that Gertrude has re-married simply to save her life!
For one of the first times in a long while Rosencrantz and Guildernstern feel like they are given more focus and really seem like two strangers in a distant land. They both arrive equipped with quintessential tacky gifts from England for their college friend Hamlet's new ruler. The culture clash they are met with (looking like two gap year students) and the differences that lie there are really put into focus here, and the sad ending for them both feels even more painful, as we see two school friends caught up in the political ramifications of a distant country's in-fighting.
Paapa Essidue is a fab Hamlet. Finally we have someone who portrays the true modern day student and seems to be the perfect age. He let's us in from the very start with his desperate and appealing "oh that this too too sullied flesh" and certainly gives us a comic, playful and incredibly wound-up and lost Hamlet. He comes in later on covered in paint like the archetypal western abstract arts student. He bristles with energy and will certainly grow over time. The bedroom scene flies along smoothly and engagingly. I particularly enjoyed the handling of "How all occasions do inform against me" speech. Paapa, carried youthful anguish and adult authority side by side throughout, and in the grave yard scene, he showed us a truly inquisitive and fascinated interest in death which chimed wonderfully with his previous philosophical discourse and thoughts on death in his"to be or not to be" speech.
All of the usual moments, the ghost, the players and the fight are now given a renewed energy that the setting allows them to have. A new culture and vibrant life. The fight in particular is superbly done and quite possibly the best I have seen. It is powerful, fast and refreshingly different to the usual.
This Hamlet has a deep heart and a powerful political punch, it gave us the comedy as well as the tragedy and the verse speaking was clear and lucid throughout. Recognition must also go to the superb design which fed us a strikingly visual and colourful montage both in the costumes and in the simple yet versatile set. It goes to show that no matter what the colour of something, the power is in the delivery.