Preview-Hamlet-001 (2)One of the glories of theatre are those moments when new works or new interpretations sneak up and take you by surprise, although director Zoé Ford’s re-imagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy doesn’t so much sneak up as eyeball you from the word go before quickly smacking you in the face.

For this raw, visceral and utterly compelling production Elsinore is remodelled as a prison in the present day and Zoé opens with a prologue in modern language as Hamlet is processed as a new inmate. It proves an effective tool and even when the play reverts to Shakespeare’s text lines are still punctuated with the odd “man” or peppered with the occasional F word.

Adam Lawrence is superb as Hamlet, the tormented young man instructed to avenge his father, who was murdered by his own brother Claudius, who then speedily married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. And he fronts a cast full of excellent performances: Russell Barnett as Claudius, a suited and booted wideboy; Jessica White, an enigmatic Ophelia and Nathan Whitfield and Christopher York, who are a savage Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The whole productions crackles with tension and nervous energy that befits its setting and the feeling that things could kick off at any moment is palpable — Josh Jeffries’ fight staging is some of the best I’ve seen. Not that there isn’t humour here; the play within a play staged to convince Hamlet of Claudius’ guilt is particularly well done.

Zoé Ford’s “other job” is text assistant at Dominic Dromgoole’s Globe Theatre so she no doubt knows this play inside out, but her courage in taking some right liberties has resulted in a totally absorbing production. Bravo to her.

Reviewed by Tony Peters

Photo: Adam Trigg

Hamlet is playing at the Riverside Studios until 22 June 2014. Click here for tickets.