REVIEW: HAMLET (Cockpit Theatre)

As this year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, we are likely to see a myriad of Hamlets – Adam Stott has been announced for a production at the Almeida and Paapa Essiedu is currently playing the Danish prince at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Nicholas Limm’s Hamlet, in a production by Ilissos Theatre Company, is somewhat different. This Hamlet is a production of the First (Bad) Quarto, which is either an early first draft or a pirated copy, half remembered by one of the actors.

Although this is a leaner version of the play, without much decorum, the running time is still quite long at almost two and a half hours. Don’t look forward to Hamlet’s great monologues as you will be disappointed. Instead of “What rogue and peasant slave am I” you will hear “What a dung hill idiot slave am I” and there is only a hint of “To be or not to be”. This is a lesser text but much of the action and many of the usual characters are present.

Charles Ward’s production uses a very simple design in this difficult theatre-in-the-round, only three set pieces that are frequently moved around the stage by the cast are used to good effect. The cast is clad in semi-modern costumes (designed by Ivan Alexander Todorov) with most of the men wearing jeans that were cut off to resemble knee breeches, worn with tights or stockings. Hamlet appears in his usual black outfit but the King (Claudius) is wearing a light blue denim jacket for some inexplicable reason. Consulted by Benjamin Murray, Charles Ward chose a mix of blues and soul for his musical score, which is stirring but does not really help the audience to place the production or to illuminate the text. At times the pace of the performance seems rushed whereas other parts could have been sped up a bit.

Nicholas Limm combines sensitivity and explosive energy as Hamlet. After a slow start he explodes across the stage, talking a mile a minute when instructing the players and exuding authority when instructing Ofelia to get herself to a nunnery, which he repeats several times for good measure. Maryam Grace is a very different Ofelia – self-confident though obedient towards her father, singing the blues when Corambis (Polonius) is murdered. She does not appear deranged or insane in any way, which might be intentional. Alex Scrivens is very subdued as the King (Claudius) and the Ghost and Pauline Munro is a sympathetic Gertred. John Hyatt’s Corambis is very dotty, messing up his sentences, thereby losing many opportunities. Sam Jenkins-Shaw is a strong-willed Leartes and also convinces as Gilderstone with Ben Woodhall being equally effective as Rossencraft. I was most impressed by Christopher Laishley’s Horatio whose performance made far more of an impact than other Horatios that I have seen. Usually it is one of the most thankless parts in the play, this cannot be said for this production.

An intriguing piece well worth seeing.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin

Photo: Charles Ward

Hamlet is playing at Cockpit Theatre until 30th April