Fresh out of witnessing Hamlet at the Barbican, William Shakespeare still rocks my theatre goer socks in 2016. 400 years on and the man is a genius. Continuing to the shake our modern theatre spheres, companies are constantly scrambling for their next BIG interpretation on Will Shakes.
Celebrating the Godfather’s 400th year of talent, I wanted to witness a fringe theatre’s take on Shakespeare. Forget big boy Benedict, he’s so last year (quite literally). I was like Pocahontas, waiting for a new production to give me an alternative Elizabethan wind. John Smith’s ship docked on Twitter. I stumbled across Hamlet at The Rose Playhouse on my news feed.
hole door in the wall, The Rose Playhouse was cosy. Looking at their cabinets of excavated curiosities, I didn’t mind hanging out in their foyer before the performance. The Rose Playhouse is a completely different type of theatre venue, merging the love of arts with history.
Since its rediscovery in 1989, the site of Banksides’s first theatre has inspired artists and audiences alike just as it did over 400 years ago. The viewing platform above the partially excavated site serves not only as the stage area for the performance, but also allows the visitors to look down at the site, where red rope lights indicate the archaeology of the historic Rose Playhouse below.
Rejecting the offer of a blanket, I walked through the curtain and into fringe theatre paradise. The Hamlet‘s stage design was perfecto. The U-turn of chairs, a hanging chandelier over the balcony and a wooden throne in the middle of the stage…I secretly squealed with delight. Little did I know, I would also shudder “it’s bloody cold” at the end. Note to self and readers, take the blanket!
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. A treacherous fratricide has torn the veil that separates this world from the next, and the only place that seems to be even more disturbed than the haunted grounds of Elsinore is the inexplicably transformed mind of the grieving prince who sets out on a lingering vendetta.
Hamlet is a crafty 90 minute piece, snipping and zipping the narrative and its characters. I liked the whizzing playful sense of pressing fast forward on Hamlet, but I wanted to press pause and get know the cast members a little bit more. Relying on my knowledge on Hamlet, I was forced to fill in these gaps with unspoken character development alongside the unusual choices of soundtracks accompanying the darkness.
The synergy between Hamlet (Chris Clynes) and Horatio (Luke Jasztal) provided great concrete grounding for the play. Working together as soundboards for uncontrollable madness, their loyal friendship rang true. Luke Jasztal delivered his lines with confidence and conviction, creating a sophisticated “lad” on stage. Chris Clynes bled Hamlet’s grief dry served with a large slice of insanity.
Glazing over the relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia (Suzanne Marie), I begged for some emotionally charged scenes. Luckily, Suzanne Marie was able to provide her Ophelia with a manic twisting of light and shade. Battling many costume changes, I applauded her solo scenes as Ophelia dances suggestively on a chair in a sparkly gold dress and caresses the iconic skull with her feet and hands. Shaking Chicago from mind, burlesque shimmered and shook a “uh huh honey“. Looking glamorous, she satisfied her own sexual desires without the need of hero Hamlet and adopted animalistic characteristics.
Studying Sir John Everett Millais’ “Ophelia” for my GCSE Art (many years ago!), I can always visualise this young woman killed by her kindness. Her vulnerability stabs at every emotional eye as she surrounds herself in the waters of death. Yet her body continues to bathe in such a glorious white light. Therefore, the dramatic ritual of Ophelia’s burial must be visually strong. This production delivered Ophelia’s innocence through the heaps of white cloths, but I thought there was a lost opportunity to create such a beautiful procession across the archaeological site.
With a danger of being OTT, Laertes (Ross McNamara) gave a fantastic shocked face as Gertrude explains his sister’s sudden death, which no emoji face could beat! His brotherly love for Ophelia creates many gentle childish moments, enabling them to bounce a fun loving side into the production.
Restoring sensibility, Gertrude (Louise Templeton) and Claudius (Nigel Fyfe) played Mr and Mrs with an ooze of royal sophistication. Gertrude scented the chills with class and a believable mother’s worry. Claudius possessed the gentlemanly order and reigned over the strained deterioration of his family. The role of “concerned parents” suited them well, but Claudius needed more stage presence to reveal his villainous splats with his step-son.
Polonius (Dermot Dolan) was like a long lost Chuckle Brother. His comical chirpiness bobbed along the deep dark waters of Hamlet’s insanity. I sniggered at Polonius’ lively scene, reporting Hamlet’s behaviour from a love letter kept under his bowler hat. Sitting on their throne, Claudius and Gertrude look upon him with disgust, glaring at Polonius’ friendly physical touches.
Personally, Hamlet wasn’t the central character in this production. The other characters diluted his transformation, but I enjoyed the cast members’ constant interaction and engagement within the small space. They all looked at the audience, offering us private access to William Shakespeare’s VIPs.
Hamlet was slightly too speedy for my liking, but the astonishing venue and experienced cast brought a new
light darkness to a timeless classic. The production shreds my one memory of watching Hamlet at Barbican and encourages me to witness further interpretations of the same text.
Buy your tickets to see Hamlet at The Rose Playhouse here. Ends Friday 26 February 2016.