December 8, 2010, by Peter Kirwan

Too Many Danes

How many Hamlets can we sit through?

In many ways, we’re still in the shadow of the RSC and Donmar "celebrity" productions, more recently joined by the National’s major stab. It’s one of the big institutional shows, and it’s had a good run round the main theatres over the last year and a bit.

But then there are the myriad smaller versions I’ve caught: the RSC Young Person’s version, Tom Cornford’s reconstruction, the Zimbabwean Kupenga Kwa Hamlet, the National’s Prince of Denmark.

You’d think this might mean Hamlet was being exhausted for the time being, but oh no. First up is Northern Broadsides on tour; then the Factory Hamlet is returning to the Rose Kingston. The Young Vic is mounting its version with Michael Sheen, and the RSC YP version is still doing the rounds. And finally, Shakespeare’s Globe are doing a touring version.

A serious question arises. However good Hamlet is, does it really warrant this level of public saturation? I love the play, but I do find productions of it (with notable exceptions, such as Two Gents) rather too similar to one another to justify the continuous repetition. It’s partly to do with the cultural baggage that Hamlet drags along with it: directors are happy to put slightly different glosses and tones on it, but the essential production remains the same in a way that, say, the similarly huge number of Macbeths avoids through breathtaking variety.

Here’s a plea to the directors of all the forthcoming shows (and I know the Factory one will at least manage this): PLEASE temper your reverence to the text with an awareness that we are spoiled for Hamlets. Play with it!

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