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Hamlet’s Fool, The Cockpit

Written and performed by Peter Cutts

Directed by Mandy Fox
Pros: An exceptional all-round play designed for the stage with imagination, creativity and talent. Fascinates from start to finish.
Cons: A rushed latter half and unnecessary musical interludes.
Our Verdict: If you want to explain to anyone what’s so great about theatre, take them to this. A piece with plenty of thought invested in it that pays the audience dividends.
Courtesy of The Cockpit
There’s a saying about acting: “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; but theatre will make you good”. Peter Cutts is a veteran of the stage and this production is enough to make any serious and aspiring stage actor stick with the medium. An entire idiosyncratic and entertaining gallery of personalities are embellished by Mr Cutts alone. His ability to hold your attention, fill the stage and provoke you to respond in just the way he wants you to is impressive.
The plot follows the court of Denmark, tracing back the original Hamlet figure to his childhood. I delight in plays like this; plays which are essentially fan-fiction. They are the yearning to see the hows, whats and whys that the author didn’t originally explicate. There has been a delightful amount of research put into the script which is evident in the nods to cadence, syntax and other side references which will delight the Hamlet aficionado. It does not, however, ostracise the Shakespearean novice and indeed is so gratifying in its own right, that one need know nothing about the original to enjoy this tale of intrigue, conflicting loyalty and feeling.
The first two thirds, as we delve into the unfortunate life of Hamlet’s mother, the kind but politicised King and the neglected young Hamlet are spell-binding. The plot rolls along, thickens and the urge to know how the saga will unfurl is delightful. However, the necessity to kill off our earthy and entertaining narrator, Yorrick the Fool, to zoom along with the established plot is rather unsatisfying. It felt like I was reading a child’s English exam whose imagination and skill weaves and incredible story, but is then told they have two minutes to finish before break time so writes ‘and then they all died. The End.’ Is this rushed final third possible to escape? I’m not sure. It might have to be a completely separate court drama unrelated but inspired by Hamlet. Alternatively it may need to spend more time behind the scenes of the play’s timeline itself so it isn’t just a prequel but a parallel.
My only other quibble was with the musical interludes, which felt unfinished. The same lyrics and score were repeated without adding additional interpretation, and after the second or third repetition they stopped having the effect of increasing intrigue and became slightly dull. I may be a more informed viewer than most, but I felt that the songs spelled out what had just happened – in a way that was very Shakespearean – but assumed the audience was unable to follow the events, which I do not think was the case. Perhaps if the show was more child friendly, this is could be a good use for their inclusion. But as it stood, it failed to add anything and was more a distraction to the unfolding excitement.
Overall, this production is a very fulfilling piece of theatre; the expertise of the costume, design and technical aspects are so masterful and so simple that if you need to explain to anyone why theatre is a power in its own right, you should take them to this. The closing moments are some of the best design and technical work I’ve seen. All through the piece every tool was used to emphasise and illustrate the setting and interpersonal relationships, creating a very full universe for the events to take place in. This play is minimal in everything physical but abundantly rich in thought and talent, and that makes this piece thoroughly absorbing.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Sadly Hamlet’s Fool has now finished its run at The Cockpit.
For more information visit the Offcuts website at http://www.offcutts.com/Homepage.html or the venue’s website at http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/hamlets_fool.

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