Thursday, 31 August 2017

REVIEW: Hamlet at the Park 90

Gyles Brandreth has clearly had a lifelong passion for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and writes as he often does with passion and eloquence in the free programme for this production. It is a family affair with his own son playing Hamlet and his daughter in law playing Gertrude and Ophelia. He challenges the audience in his notes to think about their own family. Cut down from the original play into a continuous 90 minutes the editor, Imogen Bond and directors Simon Evans and David Aula, focus Hamlet’s loss of his parents.

Hamlet is Shakespeare longest play, at over 4000 lines and the edit removes all the characters with less than 100 lines and the Scandinavian political intrigue to fit within the 90 minute running time, the result is a fast paced family drama that explores the relationships between parents and their children. It is of course given an extra poignancy by the casting of three actors from same family.

The precise plotted direction which sees actors switch characters in an instant, with only a raincoat prop to distinguish each and continuous flow from scene to scene, using only occasionally careful steps or dance around the kitchen table, leaves the audience without time for pause or reflection. Sometimes those, like me, less familiar with the full play, take a while to identify which characters we are now watching. The programme listing of characters by actor helps although the omission of Laertes from the programme list added to my confusion! 

At times it feels like some clever self indulgent wordplay game that the Brandreth's play around the kitchen table at home using their considerable skills and knowledge of the play. 

The play is set in a modern detailed kitchen with dressers filled with radios each individually lit that flicker from time to time but are effectively used at the start with a radio broadcast of King’s death to set the scene with John Humphrey implying that the death is fake news. 

Benet Brandreth is a Shakespeare authority and as Hamlet he is centre stage, directly engages the audience and speaks with precision and clarity. His Hamlet is tormented with grief on the edge of madness. From the moment we enter and see him seated at the kitchen table, peering slowly around as the audience arrives with a copy of the Puzzle of Evil in front of him, we feel his angst. One moment of light relief is when he plays a character in the play within the play and mimics his father’s own distinctive voice patterns while Gyles himself watches.

Gyles Brandreth plays the older characters, the Ghost, the murderer Claudius, Polonius (Ophelia and Laertes father) and an actor. He generally manages to distinguish each with a small change of stance or movement although at times he seems more pleased with watching his family performances than conveying murderous intent!

Kosha Engler, Benet's real life wife, is left with the challenge of playing the
remaining characters and has a larger platform to demonstrate her considerable acting ability and a range of emotions. As a result of the play’s revised structure we have a gender neutral Horatio, a seductress Rosencrantz and seemingly identical twins in Ophelia and Laertes. She is at her best as Gertrude, Hamlets mother and as Ophelia, his love interest. There is a sense of tension and danger in the drinking knife game she plays with Hamlet and Claudius and she moves effortlessly around the stage using the table, beneath it, on top of it and sat at it, to great dramatic effect.

This is an enjoyable intimate theatrical shared experience, a version that should stimulate the audience interest in the play and the themes it explores but it leaves us short changed with a desire to see the real thing in its full glory.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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