The first Hamlet I saw, at a tender and impressionable age, was Richard Eyre’s production starring Jonathan Pryce. What I was not to know, as I caught the bus to London to queue for tickets at the Royal Court, was that this would become a defining vision of the play for its era.
It presented Elsinore not as a grand court but as a place of spies, where you were never alone, and each conversation was subject to scrutiny. But the main thing everyone remembers about that production was the way in which Pryce seemed to be possessed by the ghost of his father, spewing out the words in a chilling act of mangled ventriloquism.
I thought about that the other night when I watched Michael Sheen take on the Dane – and, once again, produce the voice of his dead father in terrifyingly resonant tones, quite unlike his own.
Now, as then, the audience was packed with young people, many of whom were probably seeing the play for the first time, drawn by the star appeal of Sheen, one of the best, brightest and most interesting of an up-and-coming generation of actors.
He doesn’t disappoint, with a vocal command and intelligence that lifted the part and the play into the realm where the words seem fresh minted. Even a mobile phone going off just before “To be or not to be” couldn’t break his mesmeric concentration.