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Hamlet starring Eddie Izzard | Review, Riverside Studios, London

Eddie Izzard's hilarious and heartfelt Hamlet dazzles at Riverside Studios, brings new life to Shakespeare's classic with a one-woman twist.

When I was 13 years old, my brother gave me a cassette (it was the 90s) of Eddie Izzard’s Definite Article. I must’ve listened to it over a hundred times and knew it by heart.

This was the start of my love of Eddie’s work, and since then I have enjoyed all her shows in both English and French. Hence, I was very excited to get to see her one-woman interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet—especially as I had missed her solo Great Expectations in 2023.

The set was very clean and basic, bright and white with no furniture, a slight step up to a raised area, and some thin slit ‘windows’ which would at times represent the arrow loops of Elsinore castle. There were no props or special effects, save for Tyler Elich’s clever lighting design which, along with Eliza Thompson’s music, helped create the atmosphere as needed.

Enter the player… She stands up stage centre, the lighting is green and (appropriately) ghostly, and off she goes with the first scene between two guards of the watch, discussing the supposed sighting of the king’s ghost.

Eddie is a performance artist at heart, having started as a Covent Garden street performer, so she knows how to captivate an audience and keep them entertained. She puts these skills to great use during this show, jumping from one position to the other as she switches roles. Occasionally it can be a little confusing, and you think she’s one character, then realise she’s a different one. Some characters she really makes clear, changing her gait or mannerisms in a way as to make them recognisable, such as old man Polonius, constantly holding his hip and limping, or Hamlet himself with his intense manner towards everyone.

Despite the obviously serious material of Hamlet, Eddie injects an element of fun into everything she does, so when we meet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, supposedly old friends of Hamlet, but basically spying on him for evil King Uncle Stepdad, she brings them to life as talking hands. Yes, exactly as you imagine it, Eddie has two flappy hands perform these two important but small roles. It’s funny every time and provides some light relief from what can, at times, be a heavy play.

However, do not be misled into thinking that Eddie didn’t take the play seriously, she handles the classic soliloquies beautifully, performing them directly to the audience, and even coming down and walking among us as appropriate during one or two. This act of walking through the audience had the effect of bringing us into the play with her and extending the stage out into the studio (not an auditorium as such, this is being performed at Riverside Studios, London). One such moment that was particularly effective, and brought tears to this writer’s eyes, was when Ophelia is lamenting the death of her father and is floating around in a daze, singing a melancholic song to herself. There was a haunting quality to this performance, and the knowledge that she was soon to kill herself made it all the more bleak and tragic.

My favourite part, being a fan of swashbuckling movie sword fights (The Princess Bride is a particular favourite—Gen Z’s if you haven’t seen it, go find it on Disney+) was the finale, where everyone famously kills each other (oh…um… spoiler alert!?). It was very fast moving and you had to really focus to keep track of who was talking/fighting, but it was such fun as Eddie leapt about striking, parrying, and well… dying! There was one particularly brilliant moment when Hamlet had dropped his sword, and Eddie flicked it up with her right foot, catching it in her hand… now of course there was no sword, it was only imagined, but I swear in that moment I saw the sword leap up and saw her catch it, such was the perfection of the movement.

Some of my fellow critics have been quite harsh about the show, calling it an act of vanity, and a memory exercise, but I don’t agree with this assessment. Eddie has worked hard to get where she is today, she started as a street performer and then became one of the most respected comedians in the UK, and even the world. She has millions of fans and friends that adore her, and if she wants to do a one-woman Hamlet, or run for mayor (do it, Eddie!!) then we her fans will be there and will enjoy every minute of her performance. This is not a show for a hardcore Shakespeare fan who is expecting Laurence Olivier levels of acting, this is a show for fans of Eddie who want to see her do something entertaining, impressive, and bloody brilliant. If you are open to seeing something wholly unique, to seeing someone give everything they have in service of the show, and to seeing a wonderful person generally being wonderful, then get yourself a ticket to see Eddie Izzard’s Hamlet at Riverside Studios until the 30th of June.

To book tickets visit www.riversidestudios.co.uk

Words Nick Barr

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