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Staying true to tragedy: Hamlet Q&A with Andrew Scott and Director Robert Icke

By Anjida Sripongworakul

Thursday 24 August 2017 Student journalists

The lead actor and director of Almeida Theatre’s popular Hamlet production discussed their approach to the play and reflected on life’s inherent tragedies.

I had a chance to attend the pre-show Q&A for Hamlet on 14 August with lead actor Andrew Scott (Hamlet) and the production’s director, Robert Icke. The following is an edited, compiled highlights from the discussions. Photo: Manuel Harlen

Icke and Scott revealed the idea to work together on a production came to them two years ago, when they started discussing Princess Diana’s funeral and its meaning in the modern context. This production’s particular approach to Hamlet, with its newsreels sandwiched between scenes and television screens decorating the stage, was borne out of questioning what it means to be royal, the concept of being in the public’s eye as a public figure, and how differently Hamlet’s events would unfold if the characters were of a normal family. Scott, asserting that he views everyone as the same, told the audience playing a prince was “a hard thing to get a grip on.”

The concept of family dynamics ran through rehearsals. Icke and Scott discussed the oddness in communication within Hamlet’s family, under the preying camera, with Scott describing it as “don’t say that I’ve said these things to you,” and describing the characters as, “having a real inability and lack of interest in speaking in an emotional way.”

Scott expanded on the titular prince, commenting that he is “grieving,” and that the character might have turned out for the better if he had been given more time, while Icke pondered the numerous messages rushing through Hamlet’s head during the play’s turbulent times, asking “When do you cross [from sadness] into madness?” If other characters were well-acted, added Scott, the ambiguity and reliability of the central character came into question, as people became gripped and related to him, seeing characters in Hamlet as not purely black or white.

The pair praised Shakespeare’s genius in recalling their relationship with the famed script. Scott voiced his commitment to be truthful and authentic to the famous lines. He was proud of the long journey toward making his Shakespeare acting debut on stage. Though not a classically trained Shakespeare actor, Scott confessed he has “always loved words,” since his experiences performing Shakespearean excerpts in small stage drama competitions when he was around 15-16 years old. Shakespeare’s words, continued Scott, have “rhythm, like all plays, but are most actable and pleasurable to act [out].”

Referring to the ongoing performances, Scott said he “genuinely feel that people understand the rhythm, the feeling [in the play],” which influence the way people absorb a narrative experience. Icke termed the play as having a “rhythmic authority.”  

On the play’s tragedy genre, Scott reflected, “Tragedies are sad….If there’s no comedy, love, or other good things in life, there’s no tragedy. What was it like before? When there’s life?” He indicated another human view of the doomed Danish prince: “What happened to Hamlet is tragic, but it’s not because he’s tragic. It’s because he’s full of life.”

Icke and Scott concluded the session by relating the play to life itself. “Doing soliloquies have to be as live as I’m talking to you now,” said Scott, describing Hamlet as a character pulling different dispositions during a very turbulent time in his life while playing various roles of a prince, lover, and son, trying to “iron it all out and be what you are at that moment.” In answering how he related to Hamlet personally, Scott told the audience, “There is no real ‘Hamlet.’ He doesn’t exist,” comparing the character to “a jug, and then you pour in whatever.”

As for the advice he would give to his 13-year-old self, Scott answered: “You’re told when you’re younger that it’ll get better, which is not helpful, but what about now? What about today? You can only be where you are.” The definition of an adult, he said, is the comfort with which you can say, “I don’t know.”  To which Icke, answering a question on his process as a director, added, “Do what’s right there in front of you. Try to be as honest as possible to who they [the characters] are—to what you’re trying to build…The way you thought your life is going to go is not necessarily the way it goes.”

Hamlet plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre until September 2. A limited number of tickets priced under 30 pounds for under 30s is available for every performance at the box office.


Anjida Sri

I'm a Management Science (Decision Science Stream) Master's candidate at London School of Economics and Political Science. Originally from Thailand, I'm as passionate about the science, psychology, and statistics behind decision making as I am about film and writing. I enjoy opportunities to combine my passions in reviewing, discussing, and analysing films. My major influences include the New Yorker's James Wood, classic Russian literature, and Richard Siken's poetry. I've written film reviews, celebrity profiles, and news and technology coverage for my undergraduate engineering newspaper, the University of Waterloo's Iron Warrior. I'm also a guest blogger and Student Blog Editor for LSE's Department of Management. I believe pop culture, current affairs, and critical, world-changing ideas are integral to student lifestyle, and I'm committed to representing students' reality outside the classroom to society and the world. I hope to continue investigating this theme through NUS' platform for student voices.