PAUL WILLS provides a vibrantly colourful design for this latest, African-influenced, Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet. The setting seems far away from the grey and chilly Elsinore of Denmark. Here, against a blood-orange background, Claudius, murderer of Hamlet’s father, enters more like a military dictator than a newly crowned king. Here, the Players arrive in carnival mood, and the drama throughout is punctuated by the driving rhythms of African drums.

Director Simon Godwin also fixes Hamlet’s status as a student firmly in our minds with an opening graduation ceremony at Wittenberg University. This is a young Hamlet, whose teenage years have not long passed, and in Paapa Essiedu’s excellent and highly convincing performance, the Danish prince is presented in all his vulnerability. At first, a tired and moody individual, emotionally drained by his father’s death, but soon gnawed by anger as the murderous truth emerges - the love and admiration for his father turning to cynicism at his mother’s hypocrisy and her all too rapid re-marriage.

The Ophelia of Mimi Ndiweni becomes the perfect victim of Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’. Having been rejected by him she is tipped over the edge by her own father’s death and convincingly transposes to childlike madness. Enveloped in her own distracted state, her suicide takes on a disastrous inevitability.

James Cooney’s Horatio provides a clear speaking companion to Hamlet. The closeness of their university friendship evident throughout, but none more so than at the finale of this fast-paced production.

Until February 24. Box Office: 0191 230 5151 or

Laurence Sach