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Reviews: Hamlet – A Sheffield Theatres Production

The Stage
Ben East
23 Sep 2010

John Simm and John Nettles in Hamlet

John Simm (Hamlet) and John Nettles (Claudius) in Hamlet at the Sheffield Crucible. ~Photo: Tristam Kenton

Hamlet, it seems, is becoming something of a rite of passage for a generation of British screen actors. Christopher Eccleston played the antic Prince as a good man in a bad world in 2002. Jude Law and David Tennant followed, to widespread acclaim, and Michael Sheen has signed up for a run at the Young Vic next year. So perhaps it’s no surprise that John Simm should make his Shakespearean debut in Paul Miller’s daringly stripped back Crucible production. The surprises, actually, are remarkably few. This is a pretty straightforward – if powerful – interpretation of Hamlet.

Naturally, people will look for any links to Life on Mars’ Sam Tyler here – most obviously in the supposed madness both characters share. Simm has memorably said in the round of pre-production interviews that he’s well used to “playing nutters”. But if any comparisons with his television work must be made, his Hamlet is probably closest to his breakthrough role in Jimmy McGovern’s 1997 series The Lakes, a petulant but endearing rogue blessed with sharp wit and intelligence – but dealt the cruellest of hands.

Simm hasn’t got the longest of stage careers to draw upon, but this only really becomes apparent during some of the soliloquies. He launches into these crucial windows into Hamlet’s tortured mind with actorly, artful zeal, but he’s on far firmer ground when he bounces off the other characters on stage. Act III, in which Hamlet berates his mother and mistakenly murders Polonius sees Simm at his outstanding best, flitting from rage, to grief, to quiet determination in the blink of an eye. more…

Review Round-up: Simm Hamlet Divides Opinion
What’s On Stage
Theo Bosanquet
23 September 2010

John Simm as Hamlet

John Simm as Hamlet

Sheffield Theatres attracted a strong showing of major critics on Wednesday (22 September, previews from 16 September) as the John Simm-led Hamlet in the Crucible went head-to-head with Michael Gambon’s West End bow in Krapp’s Last Tape.

Simm is the latest in a long line of famous faces to take on the Bard’s biggest role, following the likes of David Tennant andJude Law in recent years. He’s joined in the principal cast byJohn Nettles – an RSC veteran and TV drama favourite – doubling as Claudius/Ghost, alongside Michelle Dockery (as Ophelia), Barbara Flynn (Gertrude), Colin Tierney (Horatio) and Hugh Ross (Polonius).

Directed by Paul Miller, Hamlet continues to 23 October 2010. It will overlap with the National Theatre production, starring Rory Kinnear in the title role, which opens next month (7 October, previews from 30 September).

Overnight critics were decidedly mixed in their reactions both to Simm and to Miller’s staging…  more…

First Night: Hamlet, Sheffield Crucible
The Independent
By Lynne Walker
23 September 2010

Smooth transfer from ‘Life on Mars’ to death in Denmark

Michelle Dockery as Ophelia and John Simm as Hamlet at the Crucible in Sheffield

Michelle Dockery as Ophelia and John Simm as Hamlet at the Crucible in Sheffield

He’s scarcely princely and anything but regal. But John Simm’s Prince of Denmark has all the indications of a troubled young man, an outsider who’s used to considering his inner thoughts. He’s a bit of a misfit, just as he is as Inspector Tyler in Life on Mars, whose huge, mainly female, fanbase turned out to cheer him to the rafters in his first professional Shakespeare role.

Shakespeare aficionados or first-timers, they are treated to a touchingly boyish Hamlet, in an interpretation of this enigmatic role in which Simm’s gestures are slight, his acting never over-emphatic and his face always just one grimace away, it seemed, from morphing into a potato.

That face, looking as if he really had been tweaked by the nose, goes through its own enlightenment in the course of the play – puzzled, petulant, perplexed, peevish, piqued and, just now and then, a little perky. And what a relief to hear such clear, unforced verse-speaking – to be able to appreciate the words as well as the rhythm – and to hear the soliloquies delivered, as the essential pillars to the structure that they are, without self-conscious artfulness.  more…

Hamlet, Crucible theatre, Sheffield, review
Charles Spencer
23 Sep 2010

In comparison with David Tennant, John Simm seems like a boy sent to do a man’s work.

John Nettles (Claudius) John Simm (Hamlet) Barbara Flynn (Gertrude) in Hamlet at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield

John Nettles (Claudius) John Simm (Hamlet) Barbara Flynn (Gertrude) in Hamlet at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield

John Simm is something of a hero in our house thanks to his terrific performance as DI Sam Tyler in that delightful time-shifting cop drama Life on Mars.

Simm brought a sense of bruised, battered decency and bewilderment to the role that turned what might have been a little more than entertaining piece of TV hokum into something much deeper and more affecting.

So hopes were high for his Hamlet, another drama about a man trying to discover who he is and what’s going on the world.

Nevertheless it looked a career step fraught with peril. Unlike David Tennant, who had done several seasons with the RSC before finding fame in Doctor Who and then returning in triumph to play an unforgettably funny and touching Hamlet, Simm has done remarkably little stage work and this is his first crack at Shakespeare.  more…

Michaael Billington
23 September 2010

All the rage ... John Simm takes on the lead role in Hamlet at Sheffield Crucible.

All the rage … John Simm takes on the lead role in Hamlet at Sheffield Crucible. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Who’s there? John Simm, late of Life on Mars, is first in the field in the current Hamlet stakes and offers a fine, intelligent, incisively spoken performance – one well worth catching. But Hamlet is a play as well as a role and Simm would do even better if Paul Miller’s production were something more than blandly efficient and offered a much more clearly defined Elsinore.

Whichever way you look at it, Hamlet is a political play, one that starts with a country on a war footing and that ends with the decimation of its ruling elite. It’s also no accident that many of the best postwar productions came from the old Soviet bloc where the play acquired the power of subversive metaphor. But, although Tom Scutt’s design, with its hints of birch trees and Winter Palace windows, here makes gestures towards eastern Europe, Miller’s modern-dress production fails to give the play’s events a clear political, social or psychological context.

Two examples of the lack of investigative detail demonstrate what I’m saying. Simm’s Hamlet smashes his mother’s framed bedside photo of her second husband in the closet scene; yet when John Nettles’s vigorous and lively Claudius enters, he entirely ignores the shattered glass even though it provides further damning evidence of Hamlet’s visceral hatred of him. And shortly after, when Tim Delap’s Laertes bursts in and threatens to overturn the kingdom, Barbara Flynn’s matronly Gertrude shows no hint of panic but simply wraps her shawl tightly around her shoulders as if miffed that cook had once again forgotten to order the pheasant.

But, even if the production lacks a living context, Simm lends the evening some necessary urgency. He makes a tense, wiry, permanently troubled figure with a capacity for swift thought and a voice that cuts through rhetoric like a razor through stubble. Simm also comes up with some fascinating line readings: when he cries “to die, to sleep”, Simm puts enormous pressure on the last word as if Hamlet, rendered insomniac through grief, yearned more than anything for rest. I also liked Simm’s bubbling anger so that when he tells Polonius: “Use every man after his desert and who shall scape whipping,” it is with the genuine rage of someone who acknowledges human fallibility.  more…

Emotional range: John Simm plays the melancholy Dane

Emotional range: John Simm plays the melancholy Dane

Hamlet, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Financial Times
Ian Shuttleworth
23 September 2010

A year or so after the last big Battle of the Hamlets, which saw Jude Law pitted againstDavid Tennant in their respective portrayals of the melancholy Dane, we have a fresh tussle. Admired stage actor Rory Kinnear is about to open in the role at the National Theatre. But first out of the traps is John Simm in Sheffield. Simm, best known as Sam Tyler in Life On Mars and as Dr Who’s arch-foe The Master, may suffer the same sniffiness as Tennant did from those ignorant of his stage record. He proves here that he has the emotional range, intellectual acuity and sensitivity to the dynamics of the role in a performance that is more than halfway to excellence.  more…

The great Hamlet showdown: How the man from Mars makes a tame Dane

John Simm: Mild Hamlet

John Simm: Mild Hamlet

Daily Mail
Patrick Marmion
24 September 2010

Verdict:  A good Dane, but not a great one

The great Hamlet showdown is under way. In a fortnight we can report on Rory Kinnear’s assault on Elsinore at the National Theatre.

But for now, John Simm is giving us his Dane in Sheffield. And it is an occasion great enough to draw an exodus of thespians onto the East Midlands line (I shared a carriage with Frances Barber and Ian McKellen).

Simm is best known for his TV work as Sam Tyler in Life On Mars and as the Master on Doctor Who. Yet Hamlet is a very different beast.

To get from one end of the tragedy to the other, leaving the crowd mopping their eyes, you need stamina and charisma.

And, despite a bizarre opening scene in which he sidles on and lies down, 40-year-old Simm does well as a boyish ‘young’ Dane. For the first half, he is lord of all he surveys. more…

Robert Gore-langton
24 September 2010

JOHN Simm as Hamlet doesn’t look a lot different from DI Sam Tyler, who he played in the wonderful cop show Life On Mars – plain clothes, the same shrewd eyes.

John Simm as Hamlet

John Simm as Hamlet

His Hamlet is appalled by his wicked uncle’s “o’erhasty” marriage to his widowed mother. Just as appalled, in fact, as he was by his colleague Gene Hunt’s macho police methods.

You could say the kind, sensitive Simm was a more natural Horatio – cut out to be the loyal best friend of Hamlet, not the star of the show.

Simm, in a drab dark suit, goes in for anger. Lots of it. He almost squeals at times. Anger at his mother. Furious anger at his usurping uncle, played here by John Nettles (Bergerac adding to this cast’s roster of telly detectives) in a nasty pale lounge suit, guilt written all over his furtive features.

Smashing actor Nettles, whose shifty, gimlet eyes bore into Hamlet for signs of any threat to his royal personage. He also doubles up as a scary, rasping Ghost in full armour. (Hooray for a proper ghost, not the usual voice off-stage.) more…

John Murphy
Sep 2010

Hamlet:  Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 16 September - 23 October 2010

Hamlet: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 16 September – 23 October 2010

It’s been fifteen years since the Crucible last doubled for the Castle of Elsinore, and in that time the tale of the tortured Prince Of Denmark has remained as popular as ever. Rory Kinnear is set to star in the National Theatre’s version this autumn, while the Sheffield Crucible has struck gold by casting John Simm in this production by Paul Miller.

The fact that this was Simm’s first attempt at Shakespeare led to somewhat of a sense of occasion at the Crucible on opening night.

It wasn’t just Simm who was a familiar TV face, with a cast that includes Barbara Flynn, Michelle Dockery and Bergerac himself, John Nettles. Yet this isn’t a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare – with a running time of nearly 3 hours,Hamlet is still a play that demands an audience’s concentration.

Simm’s Hamlet is one that is likely to divide audiences – beginning as a somewhat petulant version of Harry Enfield’s Kevin The Teenager character (he spends his first few minutes on stage simply lying on the floor), he slowly and skillfully portrays Hamlet’s tortured mindset. He may not have the magnetism of a David Tennant or the gravitas of an Olivier, but Simm is a different, intriguing Hamlet – bitter, caustic, occasionally cruel and surprisingly funny at times.  more…

2 thoughts on “Reviews: Hamlet – A Sheffield Theatres Production

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « John Simm Society Blog

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