Maxine Peake’s Female Hamlet Stuns Critics: Will Other Productions Follow Suit?

Maxine Peake’s performance as Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre has been widely praised by critics – although the production as a whole has come under a little criticism.

Peake, star of Shameless, Silk and The Village, is the first high-profile female to take on the Shakespearean role in 35 years and it’s a “milestone”, according to the Manchester Evening News’ Greg Thorpe, who added that she “deliver[s] a 400-year-old script as if the words have just come to her.”

Writing for The Times, Dominic Maxwell said that Peake gives a “stunningly good” performance, adding: “Without straining for shock value or raising voices unduly, Peake and co make this 400-year-old revenge tragedy come alive in a way you’ve never seen before.”

Maxine Peake in Hamlet (Photo: Royal Exchange Theatre/Twitter)

But Peake’s voice was exactly what The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish picked up on for criticism; saying she has a “restricted range” that hinders her projection. He seemingly stands alone, though, with The Guardian’s renowned Michael Billington praising her “capacity for emotional directness and a fierce, uncensored honesty”.

(Photo: Royal Exchange Theatre/Facebook)

Finally, The Independent’s Paul Valley awarded four stars, saying the performer “has that quality of drawing the eye whenever she comes onto stage”. He, like many of his peers, did however find minor faults in the production around her; saying that chemistry between Peake and Katie West’s Ophelia was somewhat lacking.

So with Peake proving that gender-blind casting can absolutely succeed in Shakespeare, will we start seeing more of it? Here’s hoping…