Entertainment & Arts

Michael Sheen's Hamlet praised by critics

Michael Sheen as Hamlet with Sally Dexter as Gertrude
Image caption Critics praised Sheen's "electrically dangerous' Hamlet

Michael Sheen's much-anticipated portrayal of Hamlet was hailed as "triumphant" on the play's opening night at London's Young Vic theatre.

There were, however, mixed reviews for the show itself, which sets the play inside a secure psychiatric hospital.

Audiences are guided through a maze of hospital corridors before they take their seats.

The Times gave the play four-out-of-five stars and praised Sheen's "unbearably moving" performance.

"Dishevelled, vulnerable, dangerous, even in quiet moments this Hamlet compels," wrote Libby Purves.

Director Ian Rickson, making his Shakespearean debut, takes on Hamlet following the success of the Royal Court production of Jerusalem, which recently returned to the West End after an award-winning run on Broadway.

Image caption Michael Sheen as Hamlet (left) in combat with Benedict Wong as Laertes

His busy production is one in which security lights flash, strip bulbs flicker and steel doors clang.

Characters are frisked as they enter through hospital reception, and uniformed staff observe the action through a security grill.

There is a genuine creepiness to the ghost scenes, during which the auditorium is plunged into complete darkness.

The cast includes James Clyde as Claudius, Sally Dexter as Gertrude and Michael Gould as Polonius.

Outstanding was Vinette Robinson's Ophelia, whose descent into madness saw her break into songs written by PJ Harvey.

'Freudian fantasy'

"Michael Sheen's triumphant take on the Prince of Denmark ratchets up the madness to the point of paranoid schizophrenia and it could all be in his warped, deluded mind," said the Mirror's Alun Palmer.

In the Independent's four-star review, Paul Taylor said Sheen had "just the right electrically dangerous, mocking intelligence for the part".

While in the Guardian, Michael Billington called Sheen "fascinating to watch" and awarded the show three stars out of five.

But the critic said the concept of Hamlet as "the Freudian fantasy of a confined patient" failed to liberate the play.

"We've all heard of Hamlet without the prince. Rickson virtually gives us the prince without Hamlet."

Charles Spencer, in the Telegraph, said he felt "irritated and cheated" by Rickson's "mindlessly modish" staging.

"The pity of all this is that Michael Sheen - with his corkscrew curls and wolfish grins - could be right up there among the great Hamlets," he added, giving the show two stars out of five.

In the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts was not impressed by the "pretentious" direction.

"Hamlet the Dane may be scuppered by madness, but Hamlet the play is here undone by too many look-at-me larks from director Ian Rickson," he wrote.

But The Arts Desk's Sam Marlowe was thrilled by the production. "This is a psychodrama seen through the sockets of a skull; other interpretations may offer a more complete picture, but rarely one more vivid."

The opening night audience included stars such as Take That singer Jason Orange, Catherine Tate, Rachel McAdams, Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily Cole.

Considered one of the most challenging roles in drama, Hamlet has been played in recent years by David Tennant, Jude Law, John Simm and Rory Kinnear.

As well as Jerusalem, Rickson's recent productions include The Children's Hour and Betrayal. He was artistic director of the Royal Court from 1997 to 2007.

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