Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
When Big Finish do Shakespeare they clearly aren’t shy of the big stuff.
Hamlet is long, has some huge concepts and language that is rich, but somewhat thick to modern ears. If you can see what the actors are doing you can get lost on the story, so in audio the feat of keeping one engaged with a story that can be told over 5 hours is a challenge.
First of all, BF keep it at a somewhat more manageable 3 hours. In the extras they talk of how they specifically wanted to have a version geared toward audio as opposed to a more staged version. This is very effective and instantly recognisable as something they have done. As much as I like the big over-dramatic stage versions of Shakespeare, this feels more like they are taking a fresh look at the material.
Famous lines such as ‘to be or not to be’ are treated as any other line in the script and not spiked as some portrayals have done and for me this makes it feel more real.
Alexander Vlahos is a triumph as Hamlet. His madness doesn’t just come off as angry as I’ve seen Hamlet played before. There is a certain anarchic quality that reminds me of the some the best versions of Batman’s Joker and the anger is only felt when that is specifically what the script calls for. One of my favourite performances was Terry Molloy, who really seemed to sound different as Polonius to the point I forgot it was him at times. Other performances such as Miles Richardson as Claudius, Tracey Childs as Gertrude and Barnaby Edwards as the Ghost really bring out the complexity of these characters. All of which Shakespeare has imbued with a mix of strong character traits and damning flaws. Really the entire cast is on form and the timing and pacing are a credit to director Scott Handcock.
One of my favourite Shakespeare adaptions is in Baz Lerman’s Romeo and Juliet. It both does credit to the great language and add the extremity to what is happening by giving us modern equivalents to what the play speaks of. Similarly this version of Hamlet has all the rich language but with the modern acting approach and treating the script as if no words are more worthy than others; even in the most dense scenes it feels that much lighter and more relatable. I even spotting the joyful digs at England Shakespeare makes when Hamlet is exiled there that somehow I’ve missed before now.
This is well worth the 3 hours of your time and I assure you it will not feel like 3 hours.
I give this 10/10 poisoned blades.