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One flew over Elsinore

November 10, 2011

A friend asked me casually last week if I’d like to go to the theatre. I said yeah, why not, and rocked up last night in my old jeans covered with icing sugar (baking catastrophe, don’t ask) to the Young Vic, to realise too late I’d got the hottest ticket in town – only the first night of Michael Sheen’s Hamlet!

Funnily enough I had been reading my friend Family Affairs’s blog a few days ago and wondering how on earth she seems to bump into celebs the whole time – Joey from Friends, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, they’re all popping up every time she leaves her front door. But last night, as I tried to hide my icing sugar blotches, Catherine Tate, Jason Orange, John Standing and Lily Cole wafted past me, dressed up to the nines, to watch Sheen’s electrifying performance.

 

The real star of the show, of course, was Shakespeare himself. Four hundred-odd years after writing of the torment of an obscure Danish prince, his words still conjure up the real interior workings of a mind fighting grief, depression, the urge to kill oneself and, ultimately, the descent into madness. Has anyone ever described depression more effectively than in these lines?:

‘How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t, ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely’

The Young Vic has put on an absolutely brilliant production. You enter the theatre through an obscure back door, and it gradually becomes clear, as you wind your way through claustrophobic corridors and past impassive orderlies with clipboards and steely stares, that you are entering a high security mental institution. King Claudius, Hamlet’s murderous uncle who has just married Hamlet’s mother, is the flashy psychiatrist. Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is a hopeless sex addict and junkie. Ophelia is a girl on the edge of a precipice. Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are magniciently creepy stooges. Hamlet himself is the trickiest patient of the bunch. He hears voices, he sees visions, he becomes a killer. Meanwhile, the scenes are conducted as group therapy, sitting around in a circle and clapping each other’s ‘progress’.

It may sound contrived, but, as my friend said, ‘It’s now hard to imagine Hamlet not in a maximum security clinic.’ It is all completely believable, thanks to Michael Sheen’s brilliantly natural performance.

Phew! After the play, it was off to party with the celebs until 1am. Well, actually, no – I had to dash for my train at 10.30. But I could have partied all night. Who says it never happens to me?

 

 

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