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Royal intrigues

Hamlet, Directed by Peter Hall, Gielgud Theatre, Shafestbury Avenue, London.

This is Peter Hall's third Hamlet. He has chosen to emphasise the relationships, especially sexual ones, between characters and their links with political intrigue.

Stephen Dillane's Hamlet, agitated rather than introspective, is an unsure boy, not sufficiently mature to cope with the upheavals in his family and the kingdom. He is more at home making adolescent fun of Polonius (Donald Sinden, complete with orotund delivery) than when left alone with his thoughts.

Dillane rushes at the soliloquies as if they are mountains to climb, allowing little time for exploration of Hamlet's state of mind. There is, however, nerve jangling tension, erotic and lacerating, in his relationship with his mother and true affection for Horatio (Christian Burgess). In the final scene, expertly staged by Hall, each death individual, shocking, Hamlet's leavetaking of Horatio is as moving as anything that has gone before.

Gina Bellman flounders as Ophelia in the early scenes, coolly beautiful but insufficiently realised; her erotic, physically expressed madness is more convincing, but she is never truly a foil for Hamlet, Polonius or Laertes.

Michael Pennington doubles as Claudius and the ghost of his murdered brother. As Claudius, taking a journey from bluff, pleasure-loving politician to conscience-racked king under siege, his characterisation is sufficiently emotionally detailed to allow him to command some sympathy. This is the outstanding performance of the evening. He and Gertrude (Gwen Taylor, looking as love-struck as Cherie Blair) at first seem set to make a success of the new regime. Taylor is convincingly shocked when Hamlet confronts her in a boudoir which is one vast bed. This Gertrude, having failed to acknowledge widowhood, instead goes into mourning for Hamlet's wits after the closet scene.

The courtiers wear red velvet tail coats , knee breeches and black top hats in Lucy Hall's design. The effect is to make Donald Sinden seem even more a character from pantomime. Blood red the court may be, but it seems peopled by overblown ladybirds.

This is a production where only some of the underlying ideas bloom in the execution.

Tickets: 071 494 5065344 4444. Running time 4 hours.

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