Haters gonna hate: Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre
Victoria Palace Theatre
Grand Circle B1, £40
9 October 2021
Delfont Mackintosh page
What to say about Hamilton… I guess I should lead with saying that I enjoyed it, and I can understand the acclaim that has surrounded Lin-Manuel Miranda since its premiere. Casting my mind back to those innocent days, pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, I can well understand the furore Hamilton stimulated: it is intelligent, original, upbeat, fun. Seeing it in 2021 it has lost some of that original allure, not just because the world has moved on (partly thanks to Hamilton’s influence) but also because to see it now is to participate in the slightly soulless West End-musical entertainment machine. And, if we’re honest, I would probably have found ways to fault it then just as now.
The chief seam I find myself mining in reflecting on Hamilton is the presentation of women. My friends who are ardent Hamilton fans argue immediately ‘but at least it has women, and they have names, and they have agency’. Against a low bar, these are things to be said. But I wish Manuel could have done for women what he does for African-Americans. No, women were not the actors in the historical story he tells, for many bad reasons. So why not make them be so? Instead they are relegated to two sisters, their separateness from the men’s world underlined even in musical styles, and while named they never achieve independence of action from the men in their lives. Judging from the engagement of the thousands of mega-fans around me, Eliza’s final song is a firm favourite, in which she sings of founding an orphanage in her husband’s memory. Really? This counts as inspirational?
I feel Miranda was probably aware of this weakness and there are vestigial hints of ways he has he striven to correct it – but this effort, I imagine, fell by the wayside relatively early on in the creative process that resulted in Hamilton. More encouragement from those around him, perhaps, would have resulted in a final work that I would feel more enthusiasm for. But never mind, and I can sense my friends dismissing my criticism under a ‘haters gonna hate’ umbrella. Perhaps what I should keep sight of is that it is still a relative rarity to see a majority-black cast, and that the popularity of Hamilton is objectively changing this is something only to be celebrated.
My other criticisms are much less important. The dancing was pants! And also unnecessarily gendered. Maybe I should allow that the dancing was pants because this was the millionth show on a Saturday matinee. But the gendering is less easy to excuse, and to be honest I expect the dancing always felt like an add-on, there because musicals have to have dancing, not because it delivers anything at all to the story. In addition to the pants dancing, some of the singing was a bit pants, and the amplification poor, and the ensemble a bit unstable. An absolute exception to this general mediocrity was Emile Ruddock as Hercules/Madison, whose singing was gorgeous. I was also impressed by Harry Hepple as King George, although I feel a bit guilty that his song is the only one I can really remember.
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