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Hamlet

By William Shakespeare

Royal Exchange Theatre, 16 September 2014

Katie West as Ophelia (left) and Maxine Peake as Hamlet in HAMLET (Royal Exchange Theatre until 25 October).  Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Katie West as Ophelia (left) and Maxine Peake as Hamlet in HAMLET (Royal Exchange Theatre until 25 October). Photo – Jonathan Keenan

Peake’s performance scales the heights.

The swordplay is thrilling and the other performances, not least Katie West as Ophelia, impress as well.  But the main interest will be in Maxine Peake’s portrayal of Hamlet.

And right from the off, with her delivery of the line, ‘But I have that within which passes show’, you know you’re in for a rich and rewarding, a richly suggestive portrayal.  She is androgynous in appearance, a pretty soul boy – a Young Americans period David Bowie – in an old-style student uniform, no cap, the long trousers a little too short.  The distance between Hamlet the prince and the king and his court is palpable; it is as though they live in different worlds. For the most part, Peake’s Hamlet is a clown and a trickster, a monster of malign mockery along the lines of Iago.  He may look sweet and soulful, but count the bodies left in his wake: Hamlet as femme fatale.  Ophelia is one of them and the scenes with her are electrifying.

All in all, a Hamlet queer and strange.

Hamlet is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 25 October 2014, further details can be found here.

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