Albert Finney as Hamlet

Albert Finney as Hamlet

Hamlet is probably Shakespeare's most famous play, but it has suffered mixed popularity and mixed treatments over the generations. It was first performed by Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men in around 1600, and was evidently a success. In 1661 the play was revived in a cut down version with Thomas Betterton in the lead, and one viewer wrote that Hamlet was 'superlative to all other plays'. During the 18th century, it was regarded as a rather barbaric melodrama (Shakespeare's age was considered generally barbaric at that time).

David Garrick therefore missed out the famous graveyard scene when he staged it, and on occasion gave it a different ending, leaving far more of the characters alive at the end of the play. It continued to be performed (with its original ending) throughout the 19th century, and during the 20th there were over 20 film versions made (far more than any other of Shakespeare's plays).

This production from 1975 at the National Theatre, then still housed at the Old Vic, was directed by Peter Hall, and starred Albert Finney as Hamlet. It then transferred to the new National building where it opened in the Lyttleton Theatre. Finney was a stocky, untidy, decidedly unromantic Hamlet, in a straightforward full text production.