Created in 2016 to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, Paapa Essiedu is reviving his powerful performance of Hamlet as the RSC take the production on tour. Director Simon Godwin’s adaptation of Hamlet is a breath of fresh air, the vibrant production set in Africa brings bright colours and intensity to the classic Shakespeare play.
Known as one of Shakespeare’s most dark and dismal play, Godwin creates an indescribable atmosphere which reflects the setting and traditions of an African monarchy. The play begins in pure darkness with a sudden explosion of colour and power as two men appear on stage passionately playing African drums.
There is a constant pulse throughout the show as the use of an African band not only sets the tone but builds the tension, it creates an electric ambience that maintains pace throughout the transitions and amplifies the expressive scenes.
Paapa Essiedu’s interpretation of Hamlet brings new life to the character, he portrays the role with strength showcasing Hamlet’s a formidable nature. His performance is engaging and his connection to the character is prodigious. In his madness he turns to graffiti and covers himself in colour whilst creating explosions of anger with his can of spray paint. Essiedu’s confidence in the role allows him to explore the deeper emotions, it is heartbreaking to see how he portrays his feelings of being an outcast in his own family and his desperate reaction to the ghost of his father.
The African adaptation lifts the play’s ability to encapsulate the audience, partly because of the contemporary feel the brightness of the play creates. Clarence Smith conveys an incredibly strong and authoritative Claudius, his stage presence is astounding as he manages to appear completely dominant through his calm exterior, which heighten his moments of distress. Opposite him, Lorna Brown plays a withdrawn yet fascinating Gertrude, she appears reserved yet her manner is compelling, her emotional scene with Hamlet in her bedroom is executed magnificently.
Godwin’s direction has created characters that seize the interest of the audience, Ophelia played by Mimi Ndiweni is utterly convincing, her approach to the role is masterly. When she loses her father Polonius, her distraught reaction is absorbing as she sings, cries and tears out her hair. Her relationship with her charming father Polonius played by Joseph Mydell really warms the heart, intensifying the devastation of his death.
Buom Tihngang gives a remarkable performance as Ophelia’s brother Laertes, his commitment to the character is exceptional as he exercises an array of emotions whilst preserving his potent characterisation. Similarly, Horatio played by James Cooney conveys his allegiance to Hamlet and there is a charming tenderness of their friendship.
Hamlet is an outstanding performance and Paapa Essiedu is completely consuming in Shakespeare’s most complex role.
The RSC’s Hamlet is on at The Lowry until the 3rd of February, tickets can be found here.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan (c) RSC