Hamlet House of Horror

Fri 5th – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Madeleine Morley

at 11:41 on 19th Aug 2011

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You must see this. This play has everything. It really does. I’m often quite weary of Shakespeare adaptations, and musicals, and clowns, and contemporary dance, but this Vaudeville, gothic, fabulous, imaginative version of Hamlet, with words from the first quarto where “to be or not to be” is not a question but “the point”, is one of the most powerful versions of Shakespeare student theatre that I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s so good that it transcends the student theatre world, and could be performed in any theatre and hold its ground. What is particularly clever about this electric adaptation is that it gives you an idea of what it must have been like to see Shakespeare for the first time, when the Ghost would have been truly terrifying and not just a man in a white sheet. It does this by making the play so modern, taking influence from the camp and satirical, bringing to mind the fabulous and gothic Rocky Horror Picture Show or Tim Burton’s earlier, creepier films.

The eerie choreography is stunning and at times extremely beautiful, each actor giving it their everything, elastically bending and shifting and creating new shapes and angles and sounds that are there to haunt and terrify. Each cast member shines and uses the show in order to demonstrate their own individual talents - the brilliant stand-up interlude from Katy Bulmer as the Gravedigger, and the incredibly sinister Ghost Max Barton’s, guitar, banjo and accordion playing, bringing to mind a more farcical version of the “godfather of goth” Peter Murphy from Bauhaus.

The play is so rich in detail and therefore it’s impossible to mention everything. There is the Jedward meets Saw III make-up and hair, that takes 3 hours each day to apply, the wonderful way that Hamlet’s face slowly melts and disintegrates into a kind of Edvard Munch Scream as he himself disintegrates, the way in which Hamlet and Ofelia are transformed into silly heart-broken teenagers, texting each other verse across the stage, the random interludes of song and dance and mime. And, because it’s so good, you should not only go see the production but also you should get the soundtrack after, and the t-shirt, and the poster. At the end of the production the entire ensemble beautifully reenact the play backwards, stopping and forming a tableau at particular peak points, moving and diving and sweeping like clockwork dolls, reminding one of the beautiful inevitability of the play, the way in which it is so very much a play stuck in time and space, forever replaying itself. This see must you.

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Rowan Evans

at 11:58 on 19th Aug 2011

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Westminster Theatre’s stunning show can't be chained and gagged into quiet, reviewed submission. Scene after scene of macabre brilliance hang together with the vast morphing harmonies of the Horror House Band’s rapturing score, and the quality of theatre is unfaltering. Music and choreography to match the best of Knee High; slapstick mime and film noir sequence; tight direction and measured diction. Nowhere does this descend into gimmickry. Chris Barton’s manipulation of the First Quarto deploys a cast as convincing with the original text as with the devised, performances that won’t allow Shakespeare to feel antique next to new material. The beauty of treating a canonical text like 'Hamlet' with such finesse is that our familiarity is there to be repainted, mocked, warped. Like the lesser-known Quarto itself, the whole show has that dreamlike flicker of something partly recognised but newly - terrifyingly - apprehended.

Dee Shulman has made each face a bruised tableau. Alone, Hamlet’s (Louis Lunt’s) greasepaint decays as he maddens and sweats next to a poised and lunar Gertred (Sofia Barclay). Watching him is like facing the loaded gun he waves with unnerving tinder-sparks of laughter. Like a monument of old bones, Max Barton’s chalked ghost remains ever-present with steep brows, guitar, accordion, banjo. He’s got a voice part angel, part gravel. Then the first apparition, old Hamlet strains to surface from the knit-body tug of the deep, cast re-sculpted as a demonic mass about his waist. Chill shivers become familiar in the heaving auditorium when the house lights shrink to flashlight and actors ooze off the stage - singing, snarling - towards us. Every member of the young cast deserves a mention, actors like Jennie King and Jess Peet equally adept as crazed sideshow, pitch-perfect chorus and hellish centerpiece, or Katy Bulmer’s standup-worthy First Gravedigger. Rich with wry innovation (a solioquy with gun and camcorder, or Hamlet to Ofelia via text), haunting dirge and turbulent physicality, 'Hamlet House of Horror' is an absolute must-see.

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