Oh, what a wild and wonderful Hamlet!

Anyone who can faithfully pursue the character of Hamlet through a four-hour performance has my undying admiration for stamina.

Anyone who can give a fresh and credible idea of the character, as Alan Howard did last night, has my undying admiration for intelligence.

He gives us a Hamlet as palpably mad as a March hare from the distracted bolting-eyed moment when he meets his father's ghost to his own death.

A mad, wild Hamlet - he stabs Polonius not once but 20 frenzied times - and one that I accept and rejoice to have seen.


He begins as a little-boy-lost, a lank-haired student, continues as a Rasputin-type monk and ends with great nobility, having fought one of the most elegant of stage duels.

His voice, "so piteous and profound" is equal to it all.

Having got this non-hero out of the way, what about the others?


It seems only yesterday that Helen Mirren was in the Youth Theatre, but here she is playing Ophelia with originality and maturity and even accompanying her sad songs on the mandolin.

Both these young ill-starred lovers, Hamlet and Ophelia, have the ability to draw compassion from us.

Looking like a pompous mixture of the Kaiser and Mr. Harold Macmillan, Sebastian Shaw gives a most amusing study of Polonius, and I cannot remember a more convincing Claudius than David Waller's - a towering, bullying, bloated Henry VIII of a man.

Brenda Bruce, with pale dignity, is his poor wife.

The setting is the same old bleak slatting against which Christopher Morley otherwise scores again with sheepskin and silver for the Danish court and sombre black for Hamlet and his girl.

Let me add, as a compliment to director Trevor Nunn, that when I left the theatre I thought my watch must have gained an hour. It all passes so well.


Playing Shakespeare/Hamlet