Pros: Engaging staging in an evocative performance space. A towering mad scene from Ophelia steals the show.
Cons: Many key scenes are trimmed or cut altogether, resulting in a somewhat patchwork production.
When Horatio enters the opening scene, playing a wistful tune on his harmonica, he is wearing an overcoat, scarf and leather gloves. It’s both a costume decision and a foretaste of the evening to come: for this production takes place on a makeshift stage perched on the edge of the ongoing archaeological excavation that is the Rose Playhouse. With no facilities and no heating, it’s a chilly experience – so much so that the audience are offered blankets as they take their seats.
But with the perimeter of the original Rose Playhouse marked as it intersects the stage, and outlined in illuminated red rope after the performance, it’s a haunting and evocative space. Shakespeare may never have staged Hamlet here, but he performed in Henry IV and Titus Andronicus on this very spot.
Hamlet (Chris Clynes) is wistful, distracted and often petulant; more irksome teenager than troubled prince. He teases and insults Ophelia (Suzanne Marie), who artfully depicts the journey from winsome teenager eating chips out of a roll of newspaper to the brink of madness and beyond. Her final mad scene is an outstanding performance, played with a vigour that’s both captivating and disturbing.
Polonius (Dermot Dolan) is played largely for comic effect: with his banjo, bow tie and trilby he looks more like a blues musician than a court advisor. But the real strength of the evening lies in a powerfully convincing performance from Gertrude (Louise Templeton), whose maternal care is finely balanced with frustration at the antics of her disturbed son. It would be good to see more gravitas from Claudius (Nigel Fyfe), and a touch less speed from Laertes (Ross McNamara) – but Luke Jasztal’s excellent Horatio brings real solidity to the role.
Wisely, given the chilly setting, director Diana Vucane has chopped the play by two thirds. At an hour and a half it fully captures the essence of Hamlet, although some of the best lines are gone – and I can’t help but feel that Polonius’ words of farewell advice to Laertes deserve to be heard in full.
None of the six cast members double up to play other parts. This decision, coupled with the truncating of the play, leads to some odd situations and curious omissions. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are completely absent, and not even referred to; this renders Hamlet’s journey to England and back something of a mystery. And with no gravedigger scene, it feels bizarre that Hamlet should amble upon Yorick’s skull just lying around on the floor. (This Polonius, ironically, would have made a fine gravedigger.)
Although most of the production takes place on the small stage within inches of the 50-strong audience, some scenes are enacted within the excavations themselves. It’s a powerful effect, and one that is not overused; when we see Hamlet and Horatio prowling the battlements in search of the ghost, their distance gives them a real sense of isolation.
There’s much to commend this production, played with economical use of props and staging. In the Players’ Scene, when Hamlet tries to trick Claudius into confessing to fratricide, the players themselves are marionettes wielded by Hamlet. It’s a strong and powerful symbol, resulting in an abbreviated version of the Murder of Gonzago that’s both intimate and affecting.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Diana Vucane
Producer: Rose Playhouse
Booking until: 26 February 2016
Box Office: 020 7261 9565
Booking Link: http://www.wegottickets.com/f/9461