Maxine Peake: Hamlet


It’s not so uncommon to see ‘tour de force’ performances on screen because cinema and TV affords the actor the physical space and respite to tear the arse out of a performance.  It’s a one off and retakes allow them to experiment and finesse the part and to build in nuances.

But of course the stage has many ‘tour de force’s’ to reference, Olivier springs to mind in the Shakespearian silo, but they are fewer in number and elitist in observation.

Nevertheless, in the digital cinema world, to that august canon must be added Maxine Peake’s Hamlet.

Let’s ignore the gender issue here.  It’s a red herring.  The fact is that Peake is, by anyone’s measure, slight.

And yet the sheer energy she exudes performance after performance is ant like in its ability to punch above its physical weight.

Her skill is to mesmerisingly tic and twitch her way through a descent into moral madness.  It’s very compelling indeed.

And yet her slightness brings with it a vulnerability that really draws you in.  Captured on the big screen it only serves to emphasise the greatness of this performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre during last year’s Manchester International Festival.

If you get a chance to see one of these ‘live’ theatre screening jump at the opportunity.  You will thank me.

4 thoughts on “Maxine Peake: Hamlet

  1. I haven’t see this performance but from what you’re describing it comes closer to my imagined portrayal than anything else I’ve seen so far maybe with the exception of David Tennent in the title role. The Olivier and other highly regarded thespian accounts of Hamlet have never related to how I imagine the character to be. Take the famous soliloquy scene for example. It’s not the best part of the play but it’s the one by which every Hamlet performance, rightly or wrongly, is judged. However, it is either over-acted with too much control and command (Olivier) or delivered with the same conviction as reading a phone directory (Branagh). No performance I’ve seen (except Tennent’s) takes us through the gradual descent into madness the way I would imagine it. It generally comes across as too well-rehearsed instead of outwardly conveying the rapid internal confusion and utter desperation of someone caught up in an impossible situation but what you’re describing with this performance seems to nail it perfectly. I appreciate that everyone has their own interpretation based on how they see the world. For me personally I would rather see a Hamlet on acid than one on Valium but maybe I have it completely wrong and it might say more about my state of mind than Shakespeare’s.


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