Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

Woman acting holding a human skull in hand

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

Max Beerbohm called the role ‘a hoop through which every eminent actor must, sooner or later, jump.’ In his deeply personal book I Am Hamlet (1989), Steven Berkoff goes even further: ‘In every actor is a Hamlet struggling to get out. In fact, in most directors too… Since Hamlet touches the complete alphabet of human experience, every actor feels he is born to play it.’

And not just ‘he’. Cush Jumbo’s interpretation of the part (Young Vic until 13 November) is one of the most eagerly anticipated that I can recall, and not only because Greg Hersov’s production, due to be staged last year, was postponed by the pandemic.

For those lucky enough to have seen Jumbo play Mark Antony in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse in 2012, it is no surprise to find her scaling the highest mountain in the Shakespearean repertoire.

In Jumbo’s Hamlet, we see a world-class actor relishing the challenge of being a woman playing a man; and a person of colour playing a Danish prince – following in the footsteps of Adrian Lester in Peter Brook’s 2001 production (also at the Young Vic) and Paapa Essiedu in 2016 (the first time the Royal Shakespeare Company cast a Black actor in the role). 

She plays a prankster full of youthful masculine swagger, revelling in the shtick and wordplay of the (well-edited) text. Utterly vulnerable in her delivery of the soliloquies, she is no less at home with sight gags, visual flourishes and flashes of menace conveyed with a smile. This is emphatically Hamlet as a vengeful young man – privately cerebral, publicly one of the lads – rather than a remote philosopher-king-in-waiting, ruefully staring into the middle distance. 

Jumbo’s prince is still, as Jonathan Bate puts it in The Genius Of Shakespeare (1997), ‘an icon of conscience’ – but she explores all these tensions with the pain of the grounded human being, rather than the ethereal detachment cultivated by so many of her predecessors. Most of all, one is struck by Jumbo’s courage in absolutely doing it her way, in a role that has overwhelmed the mightiest performers. 

Of course, it helps Jumbo that the supporting cast is so uniformly excellent: Adrian Dunbar is understated as Claudius; Norah Lopez Holden is terrific as Ophelia, as is Jonathan Ajayi as Laertes. Tara Fitzgerald is a fine Gertrude. As for Jumbo – there are no heights beyond her. If you possibly can, do see this spectacular production. There’s a new prince in town, and you don’t want to miss her.

Film still of people at protest


Ridley Road (iPlayer, all episodes)
Based on Jo Bloom’s 2014 novel of the same name, Sarah Solemani’s tremendous four-part adaptation dramatises a story with a firm basis in history, and the extraordinary but largely forgotten work of the 62 Group of Jewish activists who infiltrated and undermined the poisonous neo-Nazi campaigns of the early 1960s. As a thriller, Ridley Road works very well. But – only a year after the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into Labour antisemitism found that there had been ‘unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which…[the party] is responsible’, as far-right populism continues to flourish around the world, and as antisemitic attacks increase in real life and online – the drama feels all too contemporary. 


Manifesto: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo 
This funny, intelligent, supremely nuanced memoir is also – as its subtitle suggests – a study in the virtues and personal cost of stamina. Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize accolade (an honour that she shared with Margaret Atwood) was a reward for 40 years in the cultural trenches, as Evaristo refined her art, refused to compromise and stuck, with formidable tenacity, to her creative beliefs. She received no advance for her first two books; Girl, Woman, Other was her eighth. How many people are capable of such persistence? Manifesto is a remarkable testimony to her creative life.

Book cover showing portrait of woman
Album cover of close up of a woman's face in shades of purple


Access Denied by RAY BLK
This debut R&B album is already one of my favourite of the year: polished, soulful, and benefits from a rich array of collaborations. Opening with a statement of clear intent – Ray wants to be the ‘BLK Madonna’ – the tracks explore relationships, party swagger, and race. As RAY BLK (aka Rita Ekwere) told Rated R&B this week: ‘We live in a world that is predominantly racist, but I also feel like there’s so much to be celebrated: our culture, our skin, our hair, our fashion, our music, our talents, our inventions, and even just how far we’ve come. I wanted to put that into a song to just be like, “I love being Black.” This is not a disadvantage to me. It’s a superpower.’ So is her remarkable voice.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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