Monday, 21 November 2011

Hamlet @starandshadow - a knockout

Thursday and Friday were the days and nights for the playing of Hamlet at the excellent and hospitable Star and Shadow.

I will own up to having some modest role in the events leading to the show, but nothing on the scale of the cast, crew, producers and directors, who have been working away at this for some months. I did put up a short interview with some of them here on rashbre central a few days ago, and it is obvious to everyone involved that a whole lot of love, care and attention has gone into this production.

Those that are familiar with Shakespeare will recognise Hamlet as -er - one of the longer plays and so for this production some cuts to the original script had been made, to run two halves of around one hour each.

The production had also been modified by bringing it into the steampunk era, so there were plenty of leather coats, buckles, goggles and other paraphernalia. These were both on stage and in the entrance areas which included a selection of victorian machinery and a bar transformed into a steampunk attic.
To be, or not to be? That is the question. The production welcomed the audience into the attic, gave a chance for those that wished to become enrolled into the Court of Elsinore and then after supping an ale or two, to be able to take a small personal chalice of steaming poison into the theatre area itself.

And so to the show:

Produced with verve by @bubbleandsqueek and featuring classy acting from a cast assembled especially for the production.

We had an initially good-humoured Hamlet (Naz Kourgli) who progressively spiralled into a base of madness. The new King Claudius (Steven Langley) was played in a style deliberately at odds with others in the court - a useful device to show the way that he had established his position (for those that don't know the plot - he killed his brother the King and then married the King's wife).

Gertrude (Melanie Dagg) played a lively role as the smitten wife of Claudius and is shown to become threatened and torn as Hamlet begins to unravel what has been happening.

Hamlet is influenced by what he believes to be the Ghost of his father, after the delightful ensemble playing of Marcellus (Lee Shillito), Bernardo (James Barton) and Horatio (Neal Campbell) who think they have see an apparition whilst on guard duty.

When Hamlet joins the night watch, he starts along his quest to discover the murder of his father.

But with this as a Shakespeare plot line, there's still more layers and so we have the artfully stuttering Polonius(Eddie McNamee) advising the Court about the source of Hamlet's perceived madness.

Why, it's the love for beautiful Ophelia (Hannah Costanzo) of course, and she produces a love note from Hamlet as a sort of evidence.

Let's say that not everyone is fully convinced by this and we have some very dramatic moments when almost prophetically Hamlet tries to drown Ophelia in his bathtub.

The 'artificial King' Claudius also has a suitable paranoia about everything that is happening and pays the entertainingly 'posh but slightly dim' Rosencrantz(Peter Kitson) and Guildenstern(Paul McDougal) to follow Hamlet and potentially to accompany him on a rakish trip to England.

The pace and tension of the drama increases like a tightly wound spring that will need to be released.

But first an interval... Check out the shadow puppet video to get a sense of the start of Part Two. Claudius blows a fuse at the play presented which more or less maps the horrible, horrible, horrible deed he has done.

Then Hamlet goes to confront his mother Gertrude but things get out of hand. Polonius was supposed to spy upon the event but is accidentally but unremorsefully killed when Hamlet mistakes him for Claudius.

And when you think things couldn't get much worse, Ophelia is told of the death of her father and flips from her early happy self into a terminal depression of her own, leading to her own drowning in a pool by the willow tree. The deaths of Polonius and Ophelia give Claudius the chance he needs to scheme with the angrily coiled Laertes (Peter Stevens) to plot the death of Hamlet.

Then the famous gravedigger scene with the two gravediggers discussing whether Opehlia's death was suicide, ably explained within the aid of a (steampunk?) custard cream and thermos flask. Hamlet appears in time to see one of the gravediggers unearthing a skull. Yes, it's Yorick...

At Ophelia's burial, her brother Laertes confronts Hamlet, which leads to a set-up duel between them, where Claudius stacks all the odds against Hamlet by a combination of a poisoned drink and also a separately poisoned spike.

The unique musical soundtrack (composed by Simon Stephenson who plays it with Ged Robinson) cranks up a notch as the stage is prepared for the fight.

There's plenty of action here but leading to the tragic ending where Gertrude drinks from the poisoned cup to toast to Hamlet. Both Hamlet and Laertes exchange unknowingly deadly poisoned blows but then seek peace with one another before their demise. Laertes explains Claudius' treachery and to cries of 'treason!' from only Claudius himself, we see Hamlet force Claudius to drink from the poisoned cup.

With Hamlet dead in his arms, loyal Horatio closes the play with the famous:

'Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!'

What we also saw along the way in this production were unique interpretations of famous scenes. Hamlet's cut-throat razor shaving scene during 'To be, or not to be'. The bath-tub scene for the argument between Hamlet and Ophelia. Rozencrantz and Guidenstern searching within the audience for Hamlet and the body of Polonius.

This was a dramatic and fast paced production. For a deep tragedy, it mixed the humour well and cast light and shade as required. The time sped past for this dazzling production, which I hear rumours may soon be hitting the road.

I shall be there.


Imaginography said...

Alas poor Yorick... a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy... There are some excellent speeches in Hamlet. If this production is to hot the road will it be visiting my home town? Glad it all went so well :)

Pat said...

It all sounds a lot livelier than some of the Hamlets I have seen.