Hamlet, Shakespeare's Globe, London
Friday 06 May 2011
Joshua McGuire is cornering the market in toff undergraduates. He was last seen as one of the upper-class oiks who were members of the exclusive Right-wing Oxford dining club in Posh, Laura Wade's Royal Court play about the Bullingdon Club. It's hard to imagine Hamlet joining any society at all, still less one devoted to trashing restaurants. So, though he has shifted universities to Wittenberg (not that big a schlep), McGuire has also had to zoom some distance up the spiritual scale in order to encompass the most exposing of all the tragic roles in Shakespeare – which he achieves with great chutzpah and elan in a thrilling performance for Dominic Dromgoole's wonderfully engrossing touring production for Shakespeare's Globe. It's hand-on-heart as well as hand-to-mouth (the company comprises just eight actors but you only have to see the rapt faces of the audience to realise that this production makes an emotional impact that often eludes snazzier versions of the play).
Pint-sized in his bum-freezer jerkin and flashing an excruciated smile from under a mild shock of curls, McGuire's Hamlet could strike you as being the love-child of Tom Hollander (there's a similar air of the slightly quacking bumptious brat) and Rik Mayall (always malingering just one moment from comic mayhem, except when in the thick of it). But McGuire is more than the sum of these parts – his verse-speaking is often deeply thoughtful and can more than flirt with a filigree delicacy. Hamlet, on one interpretation of the text, is 30 years old and these days many of the best interpreters of the role wait until the last moment possible (viz Michael Sheen who will doubtless electrify us when he plays the role for Ian Rickson at the Young Vic in the autumn).
So it is intensely touching to have a Hamlet as young, unjaded and open-hearted as the one that McGuire presents to us here. Playing multiple roles (there are so few actors that The Mousetrap looks as if it is being played as an exclusive command performance for Jade Anouka's lovely, piercing Ophelia) the whole production has a disarming honesty. McGuire takes the text at a hectic lick, while always observing the distinction between mere speed and dramatic momentum. He also clocks up more stage-consuming miles than any Hamlet in my experience, making Bette Midler look positively stationary by comparison.
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