Mar 10 2024 | By More

★★★★★   The storm’s eye

Festival Theatre: Wed 28 Feb – Sat 27 Apr 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

Event theatre has arrived in Edinburgh with the major production of Hamilton at the Festival Theatre, where it will sit down for nearly nine weeks in a run that was all-but sold out before it even opened.

It is a production which does not disappoint – of a musical which has a real strength and power to it. There is no attempt to cut corners or make allowances for the different sized theatres it will visit. It’s big, loud in all the right places, clear and artfully staged. Not to mention performed with breathtaking precision.

Shaq Taylor as Hamilton. Pic: Danny Kaan

The story of Hamilton is the story of the birth of the United States of America. Alexander Hamilton was one of the county’s seven “Founding Fathers”, who argued for independence and fought for it both on and off the battlefield in the American War of Independence and who was in the room when many decisions concerning the country’s shape as a modern democracy were made.

So an important historical figure then. But with all that politics, surely not a suitable subject for musical theatre?

Not so. Hamilton’s background as a “bastard, orphaned immigrant”, combines with a colourful personal life to provide plenty of material. An affair that became known as America’s first political sex scandal and his early death in a duel with his long-term nemesis, Aaron Burr, are just the headlines.

explosive and compelling

Add Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant conception to make this a largely hip-hop affair, with much of the dialogue in rap form; Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography drawing heavily on hip hop moves; and crucially, casting Hamilton and the rest of the founding fathers as non-white performers, all adds up to an explosive and compelling mix.

DeAngelo Jones, Shaq Taylor, Billy Nevers and KM Drew Boateng. Pic: Danny Kaan.

It is all carried along by a quite magnificent performance from Shaq Taylor in the title role. His vocals are intense and clear, spitting rhymes like the were going out of fashion. But it is not until the final few scenes that you quite realise the extent to which Taylor has been aging his character over the piece.

The naive 16 year-old, newly arrived in New York, shouting his mouth off and wearing his political leanings loud on his sleeve, matures into a self-assured young man, a lawyer, a lover and writer of many, many political pamphlets. He goes on to become George Washington’s right hand man and then America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, stooped under the weight of political machinations.

Miranda’s music and use of lyrics reflects this aging process. From loud bombastic opening scenes through the frenetic politicking, with the ensemble of dancers, wraith-like in their appearances and exits from the stage, to the final scenes of stasis, as Hamilton’s philandering is uncovered, his foes sharpened against him and the inevitability of his death becomes obvious.

equally astounding

The supporting cast is equally astounding. The main characters growing and maturing with Hamilton, as appropriate; the minor characters precise and detailed; and the 11-strong ensemble always there: dancers, chorus, figures around the streets and characters on the periphery.

Sam Oladeinde as Aaron Burr and Company. Pic: Danny Kaan

Sam Oladeinde has perhaps the most tricky role as Burr, Hamilton’s emotional opposite yet his friend and colleague in early life. He acquits himself with the necessary lack of outburst, in a piece that is full of flamboyance.

Charles Simmons also has to keep it buttoned-up to an extent, as George Washington, but has the gravitas for the role. All of Billy Nevers’ buttoning is high-falutin’ and glamorous, as he doubles up as the Marquis de Lafayette in early scenes and, after the interval, as a memorably off-hand Thomas Jefferson.

emotional fire

There is an outward frailty to Maya Britto’s portrayal of Eliza Schuyler, who became Hamilton’s wife. Yet her discovery of his infidelity releases a burst of anger – almost (but not quite) equal to the emotional fire of Aisha Jawando as her older sister Angelica.

Gabriela Benedetti puts in quite the shift in the dual roles of both the youngest Schuyler, Peggy, and Maria Reynolds, with home Hamilton had his affair.

Maya Britto, Aisha Jawando and Gabriela Benedetti. Pic: Danny Kaan

Of course all this politicking didn’t happen in a vacuum. And this being history from the winners’ perspective, the English establishment is reduced to a primping and pompous King George, whose fine words and murderous intent are given by Daniel Boys, with cut-glass English vowels and intonations. It’s a performance that is as contemptuous, contemptible and hilarious as it should be.

But all of this would be nothing without its fabulous staging. It starts from David Korins’ rough-hewn wood set. A basic balcony around the stage rear and sides, backed by towering brick walls. And in the stage floor a double revolve, one inside the other, which adds another level of movement to the piece.

dynamic and inventive

Thomas Kail’s direction is dynamic and inventive, drawing in co-director Blankenbuehler’s choreography, full of hip hop pomp but having the company constantly on the move behind the focus of the action without drawing attention away from it. All lit for maximum effect by Howell Binkley.

Daniel Boys as King George. Pic: Danny Kaan

But most of all, there is the sound design in the theatre itself. With a generously proportioned live band, and orchestrations which encompass the light touch of strings and the heavy throb of bass and programmed synth, the technical team responsible for ensuring its clarity have got it absolutely perfect.

Some ears will be daunted by the speed of the vocals in the early scenes, but as the piece winds up and back down, their meanings are clear – even where actual words are not necessarily so.

Hamilton comes with many accolades to live up to. It does so on every level. As a piece of musical theatre, as a performance and in its staging, this is a night to remember. Spent, as they say, in the room where it happens.

Running time Two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Wed 28 Feb – Sat 27 April 2024
Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm (+Tue 3 April)
Tickets and details: Book here.

Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol BS1 4UZ.
Tue 30 April – Sat 22 June 2024
Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and details: Book here.


Many performances of Hamilton are already sold out, and those which aren’t have only single tickets dotted around the auditorium. However, there will nearly always be a few tickets available on the day for those who are patient – and lucky.

Each performance has a number “company holds” – tickets reserved for the company to use for what ever reason. Some of these won’t get taken up, in which case they are given back to the theatre who put them on sale online. This normally happens before midday on the date of performance, so it is worth keeping an eye on the ticket site (and refreshing it) around then.

There will also be a number of returns from people who simply can’t make the performance any more. Some of these will go on sale as they come in – so keep checking the date of the show you would like to attend.

Other returned tickets may be available on the night, in person from box office in the theatre, for which there is a specific returns queue. It is definitely worth checking this out – although there is no guarantee of a ticket so have alternative plans in place, just in case!

The Company. Photo by Danny Kaan


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  1. Tom says:


    The advertised cast, including lead performer Shaq Taylor as Hamilton, does not perform at every performance. The electronic ‘cast for this performance’ display in the foyer is the first giveaway (if you see it on the way in, which is unlikely, and anyway by then it’s too late). And, as I found, it does make a difference who plays Hamilton, so congratulations if you get Shaq Taylor in the role, as advertised, and as reviewed here by Thom Dibdin.

    It doesn’t matter who performed on my evening (non-matinee day) visit; his performance was impressive, and he could move, sing and act convincingly. But he was simply mis-cast in the role, which is not his fault, and it unbalanced the whole show.

    I’d willingly pay another £99.50 to see the show with Taylor in the lead, if I could be sure he’d appear. But how could I be certain of that?

    To be clear, the show is just as impressive as claimed here by Thom Dibdin, so be sure to see it. But I earnestly hope you see it with Shaq Taylor in the lead.

    • Tom says:

      Casting Update:

      I am told Shaq Taylor gets every Monday evening off, and is replaced by someone else in the company as the lead in Hamilton.