REVIEW: HAMLET (Southwark Playhouse)

Lazarus Theatre Company returns to the Southwark Playhouse after their 2022 production of Doctor Faustus, with their interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To be or not to be – that is the question and one which is sadly no clearer by the end of the show.

Starting off as a group therapy session, sat in a circle on plastic chairs, the cast take turns to introduce themselves and the characters they play. A steady camera shows the theatre on screens which eventually made me think this was supposed to be an asylum for young people – always being watched.

We are then catapulted into a bizarre whirlwind of a 100-minute abridged version of Hamlet. To shorten the production, all adult characters have been removed from the story, thus removing some of the pivotal moments and character motivations which makes for a confusing time trying to follow the narrative.

Written more than 500 years ago, the poetic use of the English language is quite different from the words we use today and therefore difficult to sometimes follow. The key to a successful production is good acting and delivery of the lines. Sadly, in this production, our Hamlet, Michael Hawkey, races through the text so fast that it’s illegible. Kalifa Taylor as First Player gives a good performance and Alex Zur was wildly underused as Horatio (even cutting his very presence in the ‘Alas poor Yorick’ speech). Also, major snaps for Sam Morris as Laertes, for being able to act a scene about his father’s death when we were never introduced to his father (or why he was killed).

The bloodshed towards the end of the show deserved an award for ‘tidiest bloodshed ever’ which again, took away from connecting to the story but the slow motion fight scene, played out like a video game, was fun to watch at least.

This 100-minute production is hurried and bizarre. Ending as it began, with the ensemble gathering together in the same ‘safe space’ circle in which they began. We then see the entire show rewind on the screens. Everything has been reset. This time, however, Ophelia (Lexine Lee) is missing. She hasn’t returned after her character’s death. As every other character returns after their alter-ego’s demise, her absence is clearly noted.

Then, exactly as the play began, the authoritarian voice of God asks the cast ‘who wants to go first.’ Once again, Laertes is the first to step forward, take the mic, and state his name, role and a defining moment of his character. Then, with a blackout, the show ends.

Perhaps all of this is simply meant to indicate that this group of young people is deeply troubled and can only exist through reenacting their traumas again and again. However, the absence of Ophelia means that when they are retelling the story, someone else will have to take on her role. A role from which they never return. This then asks the question… is this play about a suicide cult?

To be or not to be? I fear they should have not. It did however make for a good conversation in the pub afterwards, which is what you want from a show.

★★

Reviewed by West End Wilma

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply