Ian Rickson's mental institution set Hamlet where the implication is that the central story is in the protagonists head is certainly a bold and artistic interpretation of the play and isn't going to satisfy everyone.
It was press night yesterday so what have the professionals made of it, did it divide as anticipated? Well not quite as much as I thought it might, mainly four star reviews and just one two star review from Charles Spencer giving it an average of 3.5/5. (I really liked it just in case you were wondering.)
But, for all the palpable thought that has gone into this production, I missed much of the play's primal excitement and found myself echoing Gertrude's plea to Polonius for "more matter, with less art".
Because we are quite never sure in this version about the hero's reliability, that intensity of contact with the audience goes faintly missing – which is a paradox in a prodigious production that gives us the Prince without Hamlet.
But despite Rickson’s vision and Sheen’s compelling performance, there’s something missing. Just how mad is Hamlet is one of the central questions of the play and by deciding his mental state from the outset loses some of that subtlety. And taking away the political dimension offered by the always-present threat of Fortinbras loses a central tenet of the play.
Michael Sheen could be right up there among the great Hamlets but director Ian Rickson's gimmicky production is a disaster.
Libby Purves, The Times (£) ****
“Denmark is a prison,” he says, but in this place of warders and restraints and pills, Denmark itself is all in his head. Rickson hardly needs to tweak the text to make his setting work: even Claudius’s confession is heard through a distorted intercom by Hamlet alone, so it may be his imagination. There are few lines lost beyond the usual cuts (it is three and a half hours, modern style).
Michael Sheen is a prickly and rewarding Hamlet. And that is enough to make this assertively peculiar production of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy worth seeing.