Rating [rating=5] Reviewed by Frances Revel

In the week of Shakespeare’s birthday, I didn’t think I’d find myself hanging around a car park in Dalston for a performance of one of his great tragedies. But then I do like an alternative Monday evening.

Stern Alarum’s production of Hamlet was impeccable. Condensed into an intense 80 minute piece, at a great value ticket price, it wasn’t just the setting that stole the show – but it certainly added a sense of gravity and despair that the play is not afforded in your average auditorium.

Not many people know about the Abbot Street bunker, down a side alley next to Dalston Kingsland Shopping Centre. I’ll fill you in. It’s a real life, WWII bunker. Yes, really. And it is barely touched since the end of the war. It’s dark, damp, concrete and brick. Not a fancy art gallery. Not remodelled into a cake and coffee shop. But left to fester and mould. And it made the perfect stage for a post-apocalyptic tale of the prince of Denmark’s madness. For a small venue, the company had made it cosy and intimate without sacrificing comfort. There were heaters, and cushions on the seats, and legroom a plenty. Lighting is basically non-existent, so the use of torches and a couple of strong bulbs were all we had to illuminate the stage. And that’s all that was needed.

Using this marvellous, unique setting as a frame for the story was genius. And the cast were equally extraordinary. The original script was beautifully executed, and the acting strong, fierce and physical without being hammy. Special mentions to Angela Ferns’ distressing and tormented portrayal of Ophelia – Hamlet’s would-be lover gone mad – and Alex Gatehouse’s Laertes, who was not only eloquent but devilishly handsome.

Who could forget our title character? Henry Douthwaite was tortured and confused in his portrayal of Hamlet – and quite rightly so. In all honesty, I couldn’t find a weak link amongst the cast, and spotting these is usually a forte. A point of pride, one might say.

All in all, just a rather wonderful evening. Hamlet is not my favourite Shakespearean drama – as a hopeless romantic I usually err towards Romeo and Juliet, or A Midsummer Nights Dream.

However, it was succinct, atmospheric and punchy; if you happen to find yourself waiting in a carpark in Dalston this week you won’t be disappointed.

Hamlet plays at The Bunker, Dalston until 27th April 2013. For more information and tickets click here