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Photo Courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Photo Courtesy of The Kennedy Center

Hamlet Comes to the Kennedy Center


hamlet picHamlet, the mysterious and brooding Prince of Denmark, is one of Shakespeare’smost iconic characters- but, 27-year old Paapa Essiedu takes this role to another level. 

Essiedu made history back in 2016 when he was cast as the first black actor to take on the role at Stratford-Upon-Avon. While his Hamlet still goes mad with grief after the death of his father, and the betrayal of his mother Gertrude, who then immediately marries Claudius, his uncle, Essiedu’s Hamlet is also loving , witty, funny, sarcastic, and charming … in fact, he drives the audience mad with his performance, as we decide whether we love him, hate him, feel for him, or if we just want to get on stage and slap him out of his lunacy. One thing is for sure- we can’t stop watching him.

Simon Godwin’s West-African inspired production of Hamlet is bright with color, humor, and heart. The play begins, quite literally, with a bang as a loud gunshot goes off at the moment Hamlet receives his degree from Wittenberg University.

We follow Hamlet as he transforms into a Basquiat-inspired graffiti artist who hatches a plan to reveal Claudius’ immorality, and later brutally rejects Ophelia (Hamlet really does prove that a good woman’s love cannot save a man from himself).

The focus of this production, which is brought to life by the Royal ShakespeareCompany, is much less on the politics of the play (although it is implied that Claudius is perhaps an evil dictator – he did after all kill his own brother), and much more about processing trauma. What people do to heal, what people do that hurts, the vulnerability, the longing for support and help, and the innate mistrust that happens when something as devastating as losing a parent occurs.

Watching Mimi Ndiweni as Ophelia sing sadly and rip out her hair in her madness after the death of her father is both terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart dropped as I watched Laertes come to the realization that his vibrant sister was gone forever.

Aside from the acting, the incredible set design by Paul Wills, and the music,dancing, and drumming keeps the audience enthralled in this West-African state of Denmark. This Hamlet feels at once contemporary and incredibly timeless. The play’s the thing … and you, much like our protagonist Hamlet, will be quite mad if you miss this production.

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet runs through May 6th at the Eisenhower Theater of The Kennedy Center