CRITICAL ROUND-UP / He's back and this time it's personal: Kenneth Branagh, the RSC's Hamlet, has played the role before. But how do the two performances measure up?

Kenneth Branagh has tackled the Prince of Denmark three times in the last four years: in a BBC radio production which will be re-broadcast on Radio 3 at 7.30 on Sunday, in Renaissance Theatre Company's 1988 production and in the new RSC production directed by Adrian Noble. Practice seems to have made perfect, as comparison of the 1988 and 1992 reviews of his stage Hamlets reveals:

Daily Mail, Jack Tinker:

1988: 'Hamlet is a role which succeeds by insinuation. The mercurial changes of mood must be flashed from within, not signalled from outside. At this Mr Branagh is least comfortable and so are we. We can understand his Hamlet, but seldom feel for him.'

1992: 'The muffin face of his youth now has a commanding gravitas. The voice can soar the verse to the heavens or draw us into his innermost thoughts by its quiet confiding. The marvellous set speeches come as newly-invented; the dangerous mood-swings between the wintery grief of his earliest scenes to the tightrope journey he hazards between feigned madness, careful cunning and deeply felt wounds are expertly charted . . . I cannot recommend its brave authority or emotional dexterity too highly or applaud it too loudly.'

Daily Telegraph:

1988 (Charles Osborne): 'This is a sympathetic Hamlet as far as it goes, and in time it will no doubt go further in the direction of poetry and intellect. At present, Branagh gives one the impression that he would have been capable of killing his uncle within five minutes of having been commanded to do so.'

1992 (Charles Spencer): 'Kenneth Branagh gives the finest performance of his career as Hamlet . . . Branagh beautifully captures sudden moments of soul- sick sadness, but there is a wonderful warmth and humour here, as well as shafts of cruelty, sardonic wit and emotional violence. Yet even in his darkest moments this Hamlet never forfeits the audience's sympathy.'

Guardian, Michael Billington:

1988: 'At its Birmingham premiere, Branagh's Hamlet was headstrong, frenetic and intemperate but lacking in spiritual grace: there was, I suggested, a lot of Olivier in his reading but not much Gielgud. Now, however, he is much closer to the ideal Hamlet who, as Agate said, 'must make us cry one minute and shudder the next' '.

1992: 'Kenneth Branagh's new Hamlet is an infinitely richer, more mature performance than he gave four years ago for Renaissance. But that is because it grows out of a highly original production by Adrian Noble.'

Independent, Paul Taylor:

1988: 'Kenneth Branagh's compelling Hamlet impresses us as a man whose nature is ferociously divided against itself, and whose co-operation with the creaky convention of revenge-tragedy is painfully ambivalent.'

1992: 'When he last tackled the part in 1988, he drew an impressive portrait of reckless, self-divided impetuousity. This would-be revenger came across, at times, as a sort of Errol Flynn with a PhD, his swashbuckling actionman pose fated to buckle under the complex burden of consciousness. There's still a strong physical charge to the performance he gives in Adrian Noble's new, uncut, arresting (if over-interpreted) production at the Barbican and a wonderful sense of dangerous, goading levity in the scenes of feigned madness.'

(Photograph omitted)

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