“The play’s the thing…”

Why place Hamlet in the loony bin?  That is the question.

Michael Sheen as Hamlet

Recently, my friend and I entered the Young Vic theater through a back door and were led through a maze of dingy, sterile corridors.  Surveillance cameras, mounted in the corners of the narrow hallways, suspiciously followed our movements.  This was not Denmark, but rather a secure psychiatric institution in which the depressed Hamlet was the star patient.

In this avant garde rendition, stern Claudius is the head psychologist who wears majestic purple suits. Nervous Gertrude is his anxious new wife in tight corseted dresses.  Pompous Polonius is a lab-coated clinician who carries a tape recorder to monitor Hamlet’s progress and report back to Claudius.  Lovely doomed Ophelia is the hopeful girlfriend who flits in and out on visitations to her beloved Hamlet and then becomes a patient herself before drowning.  Steady Horatio is the loyal friend who makes frequent visits to check on Hamlet’s health. The manipulative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the duplicitous duo who check into the facility, don the mental patient attire, and spy for Claudius.

The play did not receive rave reviews as critics were put off by the institutional setting and resulting lack of politics within the iconic Shakespearean tragedy.  I will not speak daggers as I enjoyed the inventive twist and greatly appreciated Michael Sheen’s engaging, energetic performance.

So many common expressions and phrases are derived from Hamlet.  My ears kept perking up in recognition: Neither a borrower or a lender be, Shuffled off this mortal coil, The readiness is all, To be or not to be, What a piece of work is man, In my mind’s eye, To thine own self be true, Brevity is the soul of wit.

As to brevity, I don’t think I ever realized how many words Hamlet hurls at you throughout the play. I have to admit that it was almost a relief when he uttered his last line before dying.  I chuckled to myself and found it incredibly appropriate that Hamlet’s last four words are “...the rest is silence“.

After three hours of sullen soliloquies, feigned madness, violent rage, and beseeching entreaties, I was ready for silence!

If I may say so, Methinks Hamlet doth speak too much!

And yet, it was wonderful to see one of my favorite Shakespearean plays performed in such a unique and creative way.

Though some considered it madness – yet there was method in it




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