REVIEW: HAMLET (The Rose Playhouse)

It’s a small cosy theatre in the backstreets of London’s bankside.  Surrounded by large newly built office blocks, the Rose Playhouse is a theatre that you just might miss if you blink.  And that’s exactly what happened before seeing the latest interpretation of Hamlet.

Built in 1587, the Rose was only the fifth purpose-built theatre in London.  Rediscovered by archaeologists in 1989, it’s now part excavation site, part theatre which makes for an interesting set.  Two rows of temporary seating greet you and a space that can’t be any bigger than your average living room immediately imply this performance space is one of intimacy.   Here there’s no heating, no speakers and no loos.  It’s as authentic as primitive theatre can get.

Director, Diana Vucane, has a distinctive and innovative take on one of the classic Shakespeare tragedys.  A small cast of just seven and a running time of only 90 minutes, Vucane had quite the challenge at adapting the text to fit such limitations.

The fixed set meant the cast have limited space within which to work.   The backdrop behind the ‘stage’, is a large dark void.  The excavation site from the works undertaken is used well and periodically throughout the performance.

Alas poor Yorrick.

Key and quotable lines from the famous text remain in Vucane’s rendition with each main character represented. However it’s not a traditional Hamlet. Anyone expecting the bum numbing experience noted at the Barbican earlier this year will be disappointed.  It’s a cliffs notes version of with just enough detail for a beginner to keep up. The storyline is stripped to the bare essentials to focus on Hamlet, a boy getting revenge on his father’s murderer.

Chris Clynes plays the titular role. The avant-garde costuming of skinny jeans & Doc Martins doesn’t detract from the character.  In actual fact it provides an air of normality and casualness to the performance. Clynes wears a modern scruffy beard along with his wideset eyes add an element of authenticity as Hamlet descends into madness.

Ophelia is played by Suzanne Marie. It’s quite a change from what I know the role to be. She dons a gold glittery dress and a fur stole singing songs in delirium and crawls along the floor in her underwear. It’s a bold,  ostentatious character that I spend most of the performance disliking. The screechy singing and screams of anguish grated on my nerves, but there is no denying the commitment Marie puts into the role, clearly giving it her all.

The other notable mention is Horatio, played by Luke Jasztal.  A consistent and constant presence throughout the performance.  Jasztal’s Horatio is Hamlet’s loyal confidant, the friend we all need in our lives.

The audience is entertained in scene breaks by some unorthodox musical repertoires.  Judi Dench’s rendition of “Send in the clowns” was a unique choice, initially seemingly disconnected from the rest of the performance, but added a hauntingness through the spatial void.

Overall the combination of length, casting and venue is for the most part well executed however die hard Shakespeare fans may not appreciate one of the great works being stripped to such an abridged adaptation.

Reviewed by Roma Small
Photo: Jana Andrejeva Andersone

Hamlet is playing at The Rose Playhouse until 26 February 2016