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Hamlet, Dalstan Bunker (site-specific)

William Shakespeare 

Directed by Andrew Shepherd
★★
Pros: Great idea, good choice of location. 
Cons: No depth of character or context. 
Our Verdict: A great idea, but sadly full of missed opportunities which needed no expensive resources, just better use of what was already there. 
Courtesy of Stern Alarum
Upon entering the darkness of a disused Dalstan bunker, the thick air, musty smell, the echoes and the cold are all pregnant with expectation, lending an eerie, claustrophobic lingering as you wait to see how the Court of Denmark translates into this setting. 
Potential? Definitely. Exciting? For sure. Realised? Sadly not. The location has the feel of a building site, so whilst it may be a historical bunker, it looks like a hollowed out stripped bare room with exposed walls and floor. With no extra attempt to make it more like a nuclear bunker we are only left with the marketing blurb to set the scene. Actors dash off stage and up and down the central aisle in a way that is exactly like they would in a theatre. The atmosphere does lend itself to idea, but the directorial decisions do not embed the piece in the space: this rendition of Hamlet could be replicated anywhere. 
The seating was arranged in two blocks with an aisle down the middle which begged for more imaginative re-interpretation. However this basic layout could have been forgiven if I had been able to see. Unless one was sitting in the front row or on the aisle, it was necessary to strain necks, go cheek to cheek with your neighbour or sit on your feet to be able to see some of the action. The direction was aware of this I think because most of the action took place standing up. However, not being able to see is probably the biggest barrier to creating an atmosphere and it was one of the biggest problems with this production.
Simple is never bad in theatre, but the candles remained unlit, the scraps of foil and detritus were not made a feature of and the set remained lit just so we could see the actors rather than to set the mood. There was a wonderful moment where we were plunged into darkness with raving echoing off the walls but this again wasn’t explored to its full potential. There was also the start of something interesting with the use of torches but this was used in a very straightforward way, yearning for something more intriguing. What era was this? What country? The dress was up to date but signified nothing. No world was created by the costumes, setting or acting. 
The acting was wooden in some places and every actor recited the lines with basic intention, rather than with penetrating understanding of the Shakespearian text. No character felt complex, although Richard Ings’ Polonius once or twice managed to turn a phrase or two particularly well and bring out some humour. It was hard to relate or to feel for any of the characters, which created a listless rather than an involved audience reaction. 
The climatic escalation was loud and brash. Very committed albeit, but the characters in the depth of despair wailed and yelled and screamed it, rather than eliciting the poignant heart-wrenching dilemmas faced in the hearts of the audience. 
This production had the chance to be brutally gritty or a drawn out delicate sigh of melancholy – but unfortunately it didn’t quite succeed in either respect. This is the start of a great project but far more depth needs to be reached on all levels for this play to be as fulfilling as it could be. 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

Hamlet runs at the Dalston Bunker until 27 April 2013.

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