EFR - Reviews of Hamlet

Hamlet

Mon 6th – Fri 31st July 2015

reviews

Freya Routledge

at 11:22 on 13th Aug 2015

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Fresh off the back of a hugely critically acclaimed London and Oxford tour, English Repertory Theatre’s outing of Hamlet at the Fringe boasts Rachel Waring as the youngest ever woman to play Shakespeare’s tragic hero at 26 years old. However, although director Gavin Davis managed to generate some convincing scenes and performances, notably from Hamlet, Ophelia (Nina Bright) and Polonius (Andrew Cullen), the play ultimately lacked a sense of togetherness.

The first half was majorly abridged from the original, excising both the Ghost and the graveyard. Indeed the context for Davis’ vision was entirely different, being set in a schoolroom with Horatio (Daniel Arbon) and Polonius as teachers, and Hamlet and his contemporaries as the students. This first half was sometimes difficult to follow, moving so quickly that a viewer unfamiliar with the plot might get lost in the action (the play boasts a short running time of just 80 minutes). However, the second half achieved a clarity that the first scenes lacked, especially as the plot began to break down and then build up to its violent climax.

This clarity began after Hamlet’s Hecuba speech, his character being moved to powerful emotion that ramped up the energy in a rage that was authentic and palpable. Waring really came into her own when she was wavering between Hamlet’s emotional states, expertly managing to flit back and forth between despair and self-confidence, comedy and disturbance, engendering the instability of the protagonist.

Bright’s portrayal of Ophelia’s instability was equally accomplished. Her grief following the death of her father was effectively conveyed through a modernisation of the plot in the form of her recital of Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ which she sang mournfully as she traipsed round the stage.

Less substantial was Peter Rae’s depiction of Claudius, despite his genius Machiavellian aesthetic of a trashy modern gangster with a wide lapelled open shirt, heavy metallic belt and snakeskin shoes. Equally, Laertes (Alexander Neal) and Gertrude (Helen Bang) were characters whose performances were often weak, lacking the substance of Shakespeare’s brilliant originals.

However, despite some weak characterisations, the second half of the plot proved to be successful in its build up through a series of deliberately chaotic movements around the stage. Reaching its fatal climax, the second half achieved a somewhat satisfying closure that only left some transparency to be desired from the more disordered first half. Nonetheless, Waring’s striking portrayal of Hamlet’s madness, alongside Bright’s depiction of Ophelia gave the production strong legs to stand on.

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Ed Grimble

at 11:30 on 13th Aug 2015

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Staging Hamlet is difficult at the best of times. In its unabridged state, the script is an absolute behemoth, and so the promise of an eighty minute condensed adaptation certainly set alarm bells ringing, ambitious as it was.

Regrettably, English Repertory Theatre’s endeavour to bring the Dane to Scotland, in spite of moments of impressive acting work, still leaves much to be desired.

The decision to omit the ghost of Hamlet’s father is doubtless an interesting one. Arguably a pivotal figure who ceaselessly spurs on the play, as he is nothing short of relentless in his manipulation of the young impetuous Hamlet, removing the supernatural did give the play a solid realist grounding that the original text does obviously forgo. Divisive directorial choices were also abound in the play’s transposition to a pseudo-modern school setting. Despite providing the oft clichéd catalyst of audience accessibility, Hamlet’s depiction as a hot-headed schoolboy lends a somewhat unwanted air of immaturity to the character.

Much of the magnitude of Hamlet centres around the protagonist’s tendency to transcend his play, with the prince having a distinctive ability to efface the boundaries separating text and real world: Hamlet is a character not out of place on the audience’s side of the fourth wall. It is frustrating, then, to see that rather than embodying Polonius’s cries of “poem unlimited”, Rachel Warring’s Hamlet feels solidly confined to her play, despite the frequent zeal of her performance.

Oscar Wilde once remarked that “In point of fact, there is no such thing as Shakespeare’s Hamlet: there are as many Hamlet’s as there are melancholies.” If each actor playing the role then, brings their own individuality to it, then Warring depicts a tumultuous adolescent frustration and rashness. Despite being both energetic and raging, Warring’s prince nevertheless lacks the force and gravity needed to really give tangible life to Shakespeare’s creation.

The play is, however, not without its instances of stellar acting. Nina Bright’s Ophelia undergoes a startling transformation from feisty, love struck youth to a haunting mental collapse. Similarly, Andrew Cullen’s Polonius is ultimately the strongest member of the cast. At once providing rare (albeit fleeting) comic interludes with his incessant and verbose ramblings explaining Hamlet and Ophelia’s emotions, he is also crucial in the escalation of the narrative of the play: it is his desire to witness the prince’s altercation with Gertrude that leads to his own accidental killing and the beginning of a grim series of deaths both on and off-stage.

This re-staging of arguably the greatest English language play in the canon, is then something of a disappointment. Some eyebrow-raising tampering with plot, coupled with many questionable decisions in terms of staging and direction meant that several of the cast, who performed excellently, were overshadowed in what was unfortunately a production that missed its potential, leaving this Great Dane with its tail between its legs.

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