Hamlet is the finale of the New Theatre season before Christmas, and was the perfect climax to a phenomenal set of performances. I was there for the first performance and the last- these guys certainly have something to be proud of, considering the season as a whole.
Consisting of velvet drapes, the set perfectly mirrored the costume which was almost Robin Hood style. Symbolically Hamlet wore ‘inky’ black at the beginning to mourn his father’s death and changed half way through.
What was also symbolic was the number of times that Hamlet sat in the throne, sorry to spoil the ending, but he even died in it. This gave the audience a sense of the fact Hamlet SHOULD have been king had his Uncle not stolen the Crown – we began to understand why Hamlet is just a little angry and wants to seek revenge; this is something that only the play form can visualise.
The scene change was effortless. Lights were projected onto the audience, so that we were literally blind to the shifting of the set. The intervening music also helped to keep us on the edge of our seats; it is after all a highly charged tragedy, and we were certainly invited to join the drama in this respect. However whilst a conventional soliloquy would be directed straight at the audience, something which involves some eye contact from the characters, the actors here didn’t look at us once. We were observers rather than participators.
Undoubtedly, there had to be some cuts to what is traditionally a three hour play, so if your favourite character is Fortinbras, you will be disappointed to know he doesn’t feature. However, what was impressive was the creativity of this- the gravedigger saying the Priest’s lines and Horatio uttering Fortinbras’ lines, surely displays a tiny but very talented cast. They were brilliant – Shakespearean language was no problem at all – there were no slips, and all characterisation was expert. The audience could really sense that Hamlet (James Lewis) was only faking his madness at the beginning. Likewise, Ophelia’s (Jenni Herzberg) switch from sanity to insanity was simply stunning . Also deserving mention is the transformation of supernatural and unnerving ghost in to Osric, the somewhat camp and brilliantly comedic steward (David Maggs). Let’s just say all actors would give the RSC a run for their money.
Suffice to say, Shakespeare isn’t easy to perform, but you would never know because these guys make it look effortless. This is the last production of term, so there is no excuse- to go or not to go; there is NO question about it.