FOR Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet it’s not just a case of who am I and why am I, but also where am I.
Having had an African Tempest and an African Julius Caesar at the RSC, the Dane now finds himself trying to find himself in the midst of a newly-created African dictatorship.
In the middle of a real migration crisis, as hundreds of thousands are forced to flee conflict from Syria to Afghanistan, director Simon Godwin’s production cleverly turns the spotlight on our roots, and cultural dislocation from that all important thing we human beings call home – one which we all too often take for granted.
Hamlet is forced ‘home’ from university in Wittenberg by news of the death of his father, yet things have changed. The ghost of his father (Ewart James Walters) is dressed in traditional vibrantly coloured robe, while his murderer Claudius (Clarence Smith) is the Mugabe/Amin sharp-dressed military despot in mirror shades.
What’s a son to do on learning his uncle killed his father and married his mother.
Young British actor Essiedu’s terrific lithe and loose-limbed Hamlet appears to take things in his stride at first. A mind so often all over the place in the play’s early stages, is here rather considered. He knows things have changed, and not for the better, but he’s educated, so he thinks things over.
That soon changes though into a ball of confusion, mocking, cynical revenge hungry son. He has turned graffiti artist – complete with multi-coloured paint-splattered suit echoing the robes of his father – creating works which need no psychological explanation, ‘Serpent King’ among them.
Featuring a strong mostly black cast – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a couple of white backpackers – the verse is beautifully delivered throughout.
Natalie Simpson delivers a fantastically fragile Ophelia who sings her heartache, while Tanya Moodie’s Gertrude makes for a suitably dutiful dictator’s wife
It would have been nice to see a nastier Claudius, and while Cyril Nri’s Polonius was certainly likeable, he was a little too glib at times.
When Marcus Giffiths’ Laertes arrives back by helicopter to avenge the death of his father Polonius, a coup is on the cards. As Laertes and Hamlet battle it out martial arts-style with sticks, we know further upheaval is just around the corner for a nation and its people. Enter Fortinbras.
Hamlet runs until August 13.
Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.