Gender no barrier to powerful Hamlet

Maxine Peake with Katie West as Ophelia in Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange. Picture: Jonathan Keenan
Maxine Peake with Katie West as Ophelia in Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange. Picture: Jonathan Keenan
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To be or not to be a woman - is the question that really needs no answer in this penetrating and exciting production.

Maxine Peake is just the latest in a long line of actresses to submit themselves to the intense examination of performing one of Shakespeare’s greatest challenges. With her elfin haircut topping off an androgynous appearance, further emphasised in a shapeless suit, this is a gender-blind performance of great power and persuasion.

Gillian Bevan makes an especially frosty and business-like Pollonia. John Shrapnel is a tortured Claudius, Barbara Marten adds to her acting honours with a wavering and vulnerable Gertrude, and Michelle Butterly unabashedly steals the Yorick scene as a Scouse scally of a gravedigger.

Above all though this production confirms that Maxine Peake’s appointment here, as an associate artist, is one in which she and the Exchange have a lot to offer eachother.

Hamlet’s extended run is to October 25.