Despite it being Shakespeare’s most famous play, I had never seen Hamlet on stage before our latest trip to Bristol Old Vic. My teenage daughter studied Macbeth for her GCSEs last year and she’s a big fan of the Bard, so we were both really excited as we ran towards the warm lights of Bristol Old Vic on a windy and rainy night to see this performance directed by Jon Haidar.
The weather set the tone for our experience. The play’s dark, shadowy and sinister atmosphere was perfectly represented by the stage set and the foggy vapours floating around the characters. It offered the perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s story of spectral apparition and inflamed spirits.
Billy Howle as Hamlet at Bristol Old Vic
Billy Howle is absolutely sublime as Hamlet. He puts in an outstanding performance as the Danish prince filled with hatred and disgust for Claudius, his paternal uncle who now sits on the throne of his late father alongside his mother after a hasty marriage following the death of the king.
Hamlet is convinced that nothing good will come out of such a union and his violent feelings toward the pair turn into vengeance after the ghost of his father reveals that he was murdered by Claudius.
We were also blown away by the performance of Mirren Mack as Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest who slowly loses her mind after the death of her father, played by the brilliant Jason Barnett. Mack conveyed Ophelia’s pain and distress perfectly. Barnett gave Polonius, Ophelia’s father and chief counsellor to the treacherous Claudius, a perfect mix of sycophancy and self importance with a twist of humour that provided welcome touches of lightness in such an intense setting.
We were happy to see the talented Niamh Cusach, who we saw in 2019 at Bristol Old Vic in Remains of The Day, play Queen Gertrude, worried for her son but oblivious to Claudius’ cruelty until she realises her error at the very end.
With our eyes riveted to the stage we forgot all about the outside world and were totally captivated by the famous tale as the characters succumbed to a dark and intense descent into madness, chaos and death.
This was undoubtedly one of the most poignant plays we’ve ever seen. Hats off to the cast and crew for a truly epic night out. It’s an absolutely breathtaking must-see!
Image credit: Billy Howle as Hamlet by Marc Brenner
Hamlet from Bristol Old Vic is being screened in cinemas on 6 April 2023. Before the film is a Q&A with director John Haidar in conversation with Professor Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Oxford and author of the Sunday Times bestseller This is Shakespeare. Book here.
After announcing Hamlet will be hitting the big screen this Apr, @AltitudeFilms have released a brand-new trailer, now you can watch Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy in all its cinematic glory!— Bristol Old Vic (@BristolOldVic) February 23, 2023
Our thrilling production of Hamlet will be screened in cinemas nationwide on 6 Apr. pic.twitter.com/JPlBr07JMj