Pros: Shakespeare’s own words have never been so meaningful, thanks to the cast’s outstanding delivery.
Cons: One must be familiar with the plot to enjoy this abridged script and stripped-down casting.
Working on some of Secret Cinema‘s most successful runs, director Simon Evans might have acquired a taste for visual performances, borrowing, together with co-director David Aula, elements of nonverbal syntax directly from filmic imagery. For example, in the opening sequence Claudius and Gertrude stand frozen whilst Hamlet talks directly to the audience, and on more than one occasion different scenes are juxtaposed together, like the royal couple dancing a waltz around the room whilst their heir talks himself into madness.
In this 90-minute abridged version, Hamlet is depicted as an intellectual young man, wearing tortoiseshell glasses and surrounded by piles of books. Without much emphasis, he reads aloud his existential monologue directly from a tome, as if he was quickly going through the lines before pondering their implications. His measured reactions rarely match the blind rage expected by the role, but Benet Brandreth is a Shakespeare virtuoso and he’s able to deliver the part with strong conviction.
This anthology version of Shakespeare’s longest tragedy is something of a ménage à trois for the Brandreths. Benet’s father, Gyles, plays Claudius, Polonius, the ghost of Hamlet senior and the Player King whilst Benet’s real-life partner, Kosha Engler, is in charge of the remaining characters, including Gertrude, Horatio, Ophelia and Rosencrantz. These switch continuously, highlighting unexpected connections between their lines and sharply picking up from where the other has left off.
Due to the sparsity of props and costume variations, this concentration can lead to great confusion – particularly for the novice theatre punter that isn’t quite familiar with the script. Nonetheless, there is something fascinating about this vision of Hamlet as a true family affair, and the complicity amongst the cast is beneficial to the performance.
The fate of the Danish kingdom is discussed over breakfast, and the exchange between Hamlet and Guildenstern in Act III offers an unexpected saucy innuendo when Benet, sat on the table with widespread legs, challenges his wife with ‘Will you play upon this pipe?’. A daring knife game helps to keep momentum and causes noticeable tension amongst the audience whilst being one more way for the actors to demonstrate their skill.
To be vintage or not to be vintage? This must have been the question for Polly Sullivan, whose set reproduces in detail a modern middle-class kitchen but seems to suffer from a personality disorder with regard to the era of the six (or more) radios placed on the shelves. I suspect this cannot be simply incidental, and I’m intrigued as to what possible meaning their presence is supposed to convey.
This is a Hamlet for connoisseurs that highlights the family saga rather than the personal development of each individual and, as such, is understandably more lighthearted and patchy than more traditional renditions, but, to my eyes, it also appears quite refreshing.
Author: William Shakespeare
Adapted By: Imogen Bond
Directors: Simon Evans and David Aula
Producer: Approximately Right Productions in association with Park Theatre
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/hamlet
Booking Until: 16 September 2017