Wednesday, 26 June 2019

REVIEW: Hamlet at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden

Hamlet is in many people's view one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and is oft produced. The temptation of companies and directors is to find some new take on the story to freshen its appeal and differentiate itself from other versions. Last week I saw Sh*t faced Shakespeare's take on the show with a Hamlet drunk on two thirds of a bottle of Tequila in Leicester Square. A few days later in the glorious setting of the actors church in Covent Garden we are presented with Iris Theatre's version. It is an open air show in the heart of the West End and the actors compete with the noise and crowds of the Covent Garden street performers in front of the church as well as the occasional screech of seagulls. It is a massive distraction in the opening scenes as we strain to hear the unamplified actors early lines.

The Director, Daniel Winder, then layers on an excess of video images on multiple screens dotted around the acting spaces as if surveillance cameras are in operation all around the dystopian future world in which he sets the production. Sometime the footage seems relevant like the marriage of Gertrude and Claudius or secret meetings behind closed doors but at other times it is bizarre and unfathomable and completely distracts from the poor actors struggling to put across the lengthy speeches. Even the BBC seems to be exist in this world as news comes from Broadcasting house. 

To add to this strange world, "the tragedians" are dressed in stocking faced caricatures and odd costumes like a nightmarish fringe show. Indeed the costumes generally by Madeline Berry, intended to reflect some future design fashion are weird but not wonderful. There were elements that might have borrowed from the sixties TV show "The Prisoner" like Ophelia 's grey tunic, cape and hood and in one sequence Hamlet dons Mrs May style leopard skin stilettos for no obvious reason. The Ghost of his father appears and looks like a painter and decorator who has had an accident while mixing his paints! 

The production moves between various locations within the church grounds and the painfully slow Audience procession to avoid the various trip hazards is another disruptive element of the show and although the steps of the church and interior make wonderful back drops, the other settings add little to the narrative.

The effect is to create a bizarre world on the edge of madness in which Hamlet
is the central character. Jenet Le Lacheur speaks the lines with a wonderful clarity and diction and has a dynamic physical presence and as the external noises subside holds our attention despite the excesses of the production. 

I enjoyed the lively interpretation of the Four Musketeers by the same company last year in the same setting but this production of Hamlet was over complicated and hard work and after a while I longed for the simplicity and clarity of the Sh*t faced version and when one character shouts from within the audience "This is too long", I just had to agree.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★

Seat: Promenade | Price of Ticket: £20
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