Anticipation for Sarah Frankcom’s new production of Hamlet has been building for months now, the undeniable attraction being that Frankcom’s Hamlet would not only be crossing genders, but would allow much loved local talent Maxine Peake to step into the Prince of Denmark’s shoes.
While there have been female Hamlet’s before, Peake’s Hamlet rather than the focus being on her gender is much more about the character of her troubled soul. Filled with disgust at the corruption taking place all around her Peake is superb, quick, clever, goofy, intense, passionate, fiercely honest, playful and strong. She succeeds undoubtedly in showing us inside not only of Hamlets broken and disillusioned heart but her magic and mesmerising mind. Supported by a strong cast Frankcom’s production is another feather in the cap of not only the Royal Exchange but Manchester’s thriving theatre scene.
Peake is superb, quick, clever, goofy, intense, passionate, fiercely honest, playful and strong.
Using Michael Grandages’ script which was first created for Jude Law’s Hamlet in 2009, the cast in this new production add a freshness that makes even the most well-known of quotes from the 400 year old text seem new and original. Peake’s Hamlet isn’t the only gender swap we see in this production, Gillian Bevan who we last saw at the Exchange in The Last Days of Troy, plays Polonia brilliantly, witty, cynical and sharp she’s a joy to watch. Forthright Claire Benedict takes on the role of Player King and Jodie McNee a tattoed, gothic Rosencrantz, last but my no means least is Michelle Butterly’s interpretation of First Gravedigger a sarcastic Scouser with well-timed wit.
Lighting Designer Lee Curran has done an outstanding job of illuminating the action, from bold and bright to soft and brooding, it really is a master class in design. Amanda Stoodley’s set is modern and minimalist, complementing the intensity of the action delivered before us.
It is quite rightly Peake’s perfect performance that steals the show; from thundering anger to quiet contemplation she makes herself quite rightly the centre of attention. To see or not to see? Well that’s not even in question! Showing at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 25th October.
Hamlet, Royal Exchange, Manchester