Slender shoulders can carry the weight of the world and so it proves in The Gate Theatre from Dublin's flawless new production of Shakespeare's Hamlet in New York.
Any suggestion a woman can not or should not play the title part is dispensed within Ruth Negga's first scene, indeed within her first few lines as she haunts the wide stage with her sorrow and suspicions.
Playing a man, or more precisely playing a part written for a man, Negga inhabits the power and authority of her character instantly.
But she goes deeper, showing us Hamlet's melancholy, rage and almost unspeakable sorrow in the most convincing portrayal of the character I have ever seen.
From her first moment on stage, it's as if Negga is somehow shouldering the heartbroken fury of the world. Speaking in her own Irish accent throughout, it also amplifies her scorn in a host of ways.
St. Ann's Warehouse, where the show is now playing, is probably the most impressive theatre in New York City and this is unarguably the most prestigious production to have graced its stage since it first opened.
Hamlet is a perfectly crafted play, possibly because Shakespeare worked on it for so long that his company eventually threatened to steal it from him. It's a play about vaulting ambition and the cruelty that same ambition can unleash on the world. It's also about death because death follows in ambitions heels no matter what you try to do.
To make this point clear in a modern context when we see first see the Queen of Denmark beside her new and hastily married husband she is dressed in a facsimile of the powder blue dress that Melania Trump wore to the 2016 inauguration. The point is being made that vaulting ambition and its eventual comeuppance is a recurring human storyline.
The story of Hamlet is simple enough to recount. One night soon after his death, the ghost of the recently deceased King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to he has been murdered by the new king, Hamlet's uncle. As you can imagine this news unmoors the young nobleman, who is appalled to discover that his mother and uncle have conspired to kill his bother, her husband and Hamlet's father. Talk about toxic families.
Hamlet vows revenge and the pretends to have been driven by grief into madness, mooning around the castle of Elsinore contemplating life and death, and plotting his revenge.
Fearing for his life when he discovers Hamlet is on to him, the new king devises a plot to kill Hamlet. So the play hurtles toward a fatal duel, during which the King, Queen, Hamlet's opponent and even Hamlet himself are all killed.
If ever there were a play where it's about the journey, not the destination, it's this one. Set and costume designer Susan Hilferty has produced something extraordinary for this production.
Clothing the secondary actors in the suits and bowler hats of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, this production anchors the text in an Irish context almost from the first moments.
Both plays are famously about thwarted ambition and futility and both comment on each other in ways that I found especially helpful as an Irish person watching Irish actors make an English play sing in their own voices.
Negga owns the stage each time she appears, but she never overwhelms the production. This is a communal work and each actor pulls their weight int pursuit of the story, making it simplicity itself. As Ophelia, Irish actress Aoife Duffin is the perfect foil, allowing us to see a potential fate for both young lovers that although never to be, could be.
The set is a series of doors which is really a series of choices. You can go this way or you can go that and what happens to you afterward will be the result of the choice you make. Blinded by their own lust for power both the new king and queen know they have committed foul acts to achieve their ambitions but both hope to outrun their crimes. Hamlet is what stands between them and a getaway.
Negga's Hamlet is deeply affecting because we can clearly see what it costs him to carry out his father's order for revenge. He loses his friends regard, he loses the love of his life, he loses his mother to her treachery and his uncle to his homicidal pursuit of the crown.
Dead bodies litter the stage buy the plays end and what, it asks us, has all this been for? Every man and woman is heading to the same end. The play ends in silence and so does life. Choose the right doors.
Hamlet is now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn to March 8.