Amidst the fashionable clamour for authenticity on our stages, Othello should be a black actor, Cleopatra and Juliet should be teenage girls, etc, this production seemed to dismiss such concerns and happily swapped the gender of several main characters. Now I don’t want to start anything or be dismissed as “Protesting too much”, but even within the parameters of a bold transformation to a Victorian Gothic tale, for Hamlet’s sake, I was left wondering was it too far or not too far?
However, “The play’s the thing.” The impossibility of certainty, the complexity of action, the mystery of death, the nation as a diseased body, incest, misogyny, senses and symbols. Such deep themes seemed lost in the air of pantomime, the severe cuts to the action and it all being a bit rushed.
The entrance to the intimate auditorium crossed a rather drably set stage where actors in their places waited like human statues. In this instance, stage left, two women in black crinoline and a gent in Victorian attire sat around a table. When the lights went up and the action started, they turned out to be mid séance. As the ghost of Hamlet’s noble and faultless father (Chris Huntley-Turner) appeared, as spectral and spooky as he should, the statues revealed themselves to be Horatio (Andrew Venning) and in black crinoline, two palace guards. OK
Hamlet (Jack Baldwin), a university student, was supposed to be philosophical and contemplative, an enigma. This Hamlet, however was stuffy, aloof, not mysterious, too Victorian. I didn’t really care what he was going through. His soliloquies, some of the most famous in literature, were delivered with what seemed to be a deliberate under-emphasis especially where there should have been an emphasis. The director maybe? However, he lost it completely when he was with the lady gravediggers and uttered “Alas poor Yorick, I knew her Horatio”. It wasn’t only me who groaned, but I just couldn’t begin to imagine him riding on her back. Look it up.
Claudius (Alexander Nash), Gertrude (Kate Terence) and Polonius (Paul Easom) made themselves known during a royal proclamation, letting the masses know what they already thought, that they’d married too soon after the previous king’s death. Yes, Hamlet’s late noble and faultless father.
Claudius gave us a few good moments as a villain and a corrupt politician, but nothing of the shrewd, lustful and conniving king he was supposed to be. It was more like he was doing the day job than responding to a growing and devastating danger. When he accidentally killed his wife, he sort of shrugged it off.
Gertrude was very convincing as a woman dependent on men for her station. She portrayed an apt uncertainty in how much she knew about Claudius’ plan or why she married him. She oozed grace and charm and showed little awareness of her own mind or her lack of moral insight. “Frailty, thy name is woman,” squealed Hamlet, forcing her to face her behaviour as shaming the whole of her sex.
Polonius was suitably wrong in everything he said, but appeared more as a stern schoolmaster than a sincere father to his children. His death, behind the arras, barely made the headlines.
Ophelia (Scarlet Clifford) who was not such a maid in her first awakenings to men’s desires as she should have been and her line between sanity and madness was crossed without effort. Laertes (Robert Welling) who was about as vengeful as Bambi, dallied around a while, engaged in a little swordplay and expired without note. An underused, but defiantly lascivious Rosencrantz (Katy Daghorn) and a much too twerky Guildenstern (Marie Fortune) (or was it the other way around?) brought in the players (Chloe Wigmore and Amy Christie). “Man delights not me” states Hamlet. Just as well, there weren’t any.
I missed the tragedy, the suffering and the catharsis but my guest, who hadn’t seen it before, loved it. You can’t please everyone.
Hamlet – Prince of Denmark.
A tragedy by William Shakespeare, 1599.
Director; Andrew Shepherd
Production Company; ACS Random
Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London
02/12/14 – 14/12/14