Review: Bluets, Royal Court Theatre - technically impressive but emotionally unengaging.
Review: GRILLS, Camden People's Theatre - a fun play with a powerful roar

Review: Eddie Izzard's Hamlet, Riverside Studios - grappling with performance and personality

Eddie Izzard hamlet poster

When someone plays not just many characters but all the characters in a classic play as Eddie Izzard does here for Hamlet, I have two key questions: How will they do it and why, i.e. what will it add?

When I saw Andrew Scott's one-man Vanya, while a technically brilliant performance, it didn't add to or elevate the play. I missed seeing him riff off other actors.

The jury was still out at the interval of Eddie Izzard's Hamlet. I simply wasn't sure what to make of it, but for different reasons to Vanya. It didn't feel like it was missing other actors, perhaps because I'm used to Eddie Izzard being a solo performer.

Here, the problem was how inextricably linked Eddie Izzard's persona is with her stand-up, at least in my mind. She has a distinct comic style and tone, which is evident in the 23 different characters she plays.

Was she being tongue-in-cheek? I could see her doing little bits of Hamlet in her stand-up show, but this is the whole play, which, while there is some humour to be found, is a tragedy.

But while I grappled with the question of comedy, some scenes worked really well with some interesting decisions.

She plays the characters mostly by taking a step into a different position. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the exceptions; here, she talks with his hands, which is very silly, but it works for the characters who are puppets of Hamlet's uncle Claudius.

The play text has been trimmed back and simplified for a solo performer. There is less back-and-forth, and some of the flabbier scenes have been trimmed down, which is no great loss.

Some of the language has been tweaked, and there are little additions which make the story clearer in its condensed version. Although, I'm curious to know how easy it would be to follow if you aren't very familiar with the play.

Eddie Izzard's portrayal of Hamlet sits in the 'fake' madness camp, and this is where her expertise with comic timing and ability to inject humour in just an inflection or look work really well.

During the confrontation with Ophelia, there is a sense that Hamlet is grappling with the cruelty of his jests and jibes, a note of regret in his demeanour. It was a rare moment when the tragedy came through.

The scene with Yorick stands out for its elevated comedy and the fight between Hamlet and Laertes was also a high point.

In the build-up, my mind was whirling about how she would essentially fight herself. But fight herself she does, adding the sound effects of clashing swords, which sounds ridiculous, but it works. It's a long fight that manages to be comic and dramatic.

There was a twinge of sadness at the demise of this witty Prince of Denmark.

I've thought a lot about what I make of this Hamlet since I saw it, and the conclusion I've come to is it's less about an acting performance but more about what Eddie Izzard's personality brings to the play.

Once I stopped trying to separate personality from play, I enjoyed it.

Eddie Izzard: Hamlet, Riverside Studios

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including an interval

Booking until 30 June, visit the Riverside Studios for more details and tickets.

Recently reviewed

Bluets, Royal Court Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 20 June.

Romeo & Juliet, Duke of York's Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 3 August.

Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 22 June

🎥 Check out my YouTube channel for short video reviews and interviews with writers, directors and actors.