There’s no way around it. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a big play. It is, in fact, the longest of Shakespeare’s 38 works and arguably his most influential, using the simple measure of how often lines from it are quoted in everyday speech. The title role is without question the biggest of any in Shakespeare’s canon, and certainly one of the most daunting any actor can take on.
Laurence Olivier made his name as an actor playing the role, including a 1948 cinematic performance that many think defines our concept of the troubled prince. At the peak of his long career, Olivier served as the first artistic director of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain (1963-1973). That now legendary company began with Olivier directing Peter O’Toole, then a 30-year-old actor on the rise, in the role. Much more recently, movie star Jude Law took a swing at the part in London, then brought it to New York City for a much-praised run.
It is indeed a role that can make a career, and that’s what it appears to be doing right now for Rory Kinnear, who is earning accolades that compare him to Olivier and O’Toole (as well as Richard Burton, John Gielgud and others). He’s performing at the National — following in the long tradition of Olivier and others — in London under the direction of its current artistic director, Sir Nicholas Hytner, and the praise has been profuse. The headline for the October review by Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph bore this headline: “Kinnear often comes thrillingly close to capturing the full elusive complexity of Hamlet.”
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark will be broadcast in HD at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington Tuesday at 7 p.m., with a repeat performance Jan. 8. Go here for Rick Pender's full preview story, directions and ticket information.