Hamlet is a popular choice by producers and always well received by audiences (just ask the legions who saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s rendition at the Barbican recently). As Shakespearean thrillers go it features mass murder, the supernatural, possible incest (depending on the whim of its director), treachery and a nice bit of swordplay. What’s not to like?
London’s historic Rose Playhouse opened its production of the tragedy last night and, if you like your Bard bite-sized then this is for you.
Hamlet can ramble on for anything between three and five hours but here director Diana Vucane manages to cram this most familiar of Shakespeares into just 90 minutes without losing the plot or its famous, and much quoted, speeches.
If you’re wondering what’s missing well, there’s no room for Hamlet’s buddies, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, the strolling players who perform a revealing royal performance, or a number of periphery characters who add little to the story. Yes, you can see the merit of Vucane’s modern dress interpretation.
But there’s the rub. Just how do you get everything in without losing the integrity or disappointing fans? Yorick, probably the most famous skull in theatrical history, is dug up and moved to a new scene before being used quite provocatively by an unstable Ophelia (though not nearly as suggestively as her x-rated, When Harry Met Sally moment, pleasuring herself on a throne).
Chris Clynes makes an engaging and intense young Hamlet, capturing the troubled prince’s haunted demeanour and putting real emotion into his renowned speeches. He’s ably supported by Luke Jasztal as his friend Horatio who is left to clean up the carnage at the end of the performance.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Hamlet is bent on revenge after his father, the king, died in suspicious circumstances and his mother, the glamorous widow, Gertrude (Louise Templeton), waits just four weeks before marrying her brother-in-law.
Nigel Fyfe gives a controlled turn as nefarious usurper, the new king Claudius, portraying him as a shady businessman whose outward, caring manner belies a darker intent.
There are huge problems trying to stage a play in one of London’s oldest theatres – or, as in this case, a small corner of it. Vucane makes good use of the space available, occasionally taking her players into the dark and watery, exposed foundations for a scene or two.
But most of the production is performed in a Stygian gloom. The lighting is almost non-existent and, with the addition of the cast’s costumes of blacks and greys, there are times when the audience must concentrate and peer into the blackness to discover what’s going on.
Suzanne Marie, as Ophelia, delivers an overblown performance as she descends into madness. One minute she’s doing an impression of Marilyn Monroe, then writhing on the floor (playing footsie with Yorick), before throwing herself on and over the stage’s security fencing. It was all a little too much. And, I don’t know if it was just me, but I had trouble understanding her accent.
The Rose Playhouse is a fascinating location as an historical monument but, in its present form, is a precarious, cold and cramped performance space.
So if anyone has a spare £8m to speed up the archaeological dig to recover the entire theatre from concrete, or £96m to buy the entire office block sitting above it and up for sale, now’s the time to get out your chequebook.
Hamlet runs at the Rose Playhouse until February 26.
Chris Clynes delivers an intense Hamlet in a modern dress production performed in the gloom of London’s oldest theatre, The Rose Playhouse.