Sir Ian McKellen brings the gravitas of a world-weary scholar ‑ a really mature scholar ‑ to this Hamlet. It is 50 years after his final try and he inhabits the position with consummate ease. Not given to intemperate outbursts of youth, McKellen’s Nice Dane is a person of purpose compelled into questioning his philosophy. And along with his black singlet and train bicycle, and natty scarf flung round his neck, he has a really student-like air that belies his age.
Theatre is about creating illusions in spite of everything and this age/color/genderblind manufacturing is a conspicuous reflection of our mixed-up, shook-up instances.
McKellen is so assured that his age turns into immaterial after about 5 minutes. However the early promise of a Gothic, cartoon-like character ‑ he seems first in Victorian funeral garb of high hat, darkish glasses and a frock coat like an Edward Gorey illustration ‑ is quickly banished.
Train bikes, hoodies and knives take over in a semi-modernised manufacturing carried out on a gantry-like set that resembles a provincial railway station greater than Elsinore Citadel.
Francesca Annis offers an awesome ghost (of Hamlet’s father) however is under-used.
Frances Barber livens issues up no finish as a late substitute for Polonius following Steven Berkoff’s contentious departure.
Jonathan Hyde is a silky-smooth Claudius, whereas Jenny Seagrove’s Gertrude is a portrait of Teutonic starchiness.
I wasn’t too satisfied by Alis Wyn Davies’s Ophelia, performed as a Courtney Love-style rock singer, however possibly I am simply old style.
Having assembled a wilfully various solid, director Sean Mathias misses his probability to do something extraordinary with it (except for an obsession with hair and wigs) and the dearth of a cohesive imaginative and prescient drains the play’s power, though the sweltering warmth on the press evening did not assist.
The Gamers’ scenes and the graveyard scene are exceptions, nonetheless, and kick all the pieces up a gear. It’s McKellen’s evening, and rightly so. I simply want he had a extra extremely tuned automobile to assist him.
Hamlet is at Theatre Royal Windsor till September 25, tickets: 01753 853 888