I've now watched more recorded versions of Hamlet than all other (recorded) stage shows combined, which is a bit weird. I do like Hamlet, and admit that it has benefitted from casting actors I highly enjoy (Tennant and Cumberbatch), but it's not my favourite Shakespeare by some stretch. Still, a friend lent us this "groundbreaking" variation so it would have been rude not to. On top of which, repeated viewing does allow for hyper-analyse of the performances which, for theatre, is something I quite enjoy doing.
With that in mind, I really enjoyed this iteration of the seasoned classic. The direction went in some odd, well, directions at times but was pretty interesting on the whole. I liked the use of light bulbs to depict the spiritual realm, so much that I was actually a little disappointed when the King walked on stage. The weirdly jazz-infused sound bites during set transitions, however, I would happily have muted.
The casting, though, is what this particular variation is famous for, with Maxine Peak playing the titular role. She is not the first woman to play Hamlet, but it is still a damned rare occurrence. So, for her part, Peak was stunning. Most Hamlet's, in my experience, go either for overly tortured madness, replete with wacky facial expressions and over-the-top movement, or utterly morose, almost introverted buckets of depression. Peak treads a fine line between the two extremes, one which speaks clearer of the character than either traditional telling, at least for me. She plays her madness very well, letting the humour shine through, whilst retaining the emotional edge required to keep the audience on Hamlet's side. It is a little rocky at the start but, by the final curtain, is a performance I would highly recommend watching.
The rest of the cast are, for the most part, solid representations. One or two other characters have been gender-swapped, though Hamlet is the only truly gender-bent individual, with pronouns, titles and even relationships modified for everyone else. Interestingly, for me, the stand out was mother Polonius, a gender swap which made the character far more modern and who was beautifully portrayed. The humour of the part shone through in a way I'd never noticed was lacking in previous iterations. On the flip side, however, was Queen Gertrude, whose wailing, thin-voiced performance never felt particularly well embodied and frequently crossed over into distracting. The acting itself was fine, but the casting was off for me and heavily detracted from the pivotal scene in her chamber, despite Peak's masterful supporting performance.
The production was well cut whilst remaining true to the theatrical spirit. Only once did the editors feel the need to add a TV-only effect, with a small bit of slow-motion which felt unnecessary and a little off. Otherwise, the show was highly enjoyable and something I would thoroughly recommend.