By Danielle Farrow
A black box and notebook, a dagger and sword and a series of outer garments augment Will Bligh’s plain black-trousered and white-shirted One Man Hamlet, while occasional classical music, tight lighting moments and apt sound effects help shift a scene here and there. These simple production choices acknowledge the fact that, for a solo artist play, everything rests on said solo artist and the quality of the script.
This script is Shakespeare’s words, which have fascinated for centuries, in an adaptation by Andrew Cowie that presents only Hamlet’s journey and so only those events which Hamlet knows about. Cowie manages to create a fairly clear story, though anyone not knowing the original may leave wanting to know a lot more about other characters and those deaths at the end.
As for the solo artist: the single performer, carrying story and audience for the entire piece, is under huge pressure and must be able to engage fully with text, thought, feeling, physicality and free vocal expression, without any assistance from interaction with other performers to inject fresh energy and without rest. Bligh has a certain focused presence and exhibits stamina, but he does not manage to deliver on these huge demands.
There are moments of engagement: briefly with Yorick’s skull, and elsewhere with strong changes to sudden humour that up the energy and jerk the audience back into relieved attention. Also, an effective ghost / possession of Hamlet by his father raises chills – one of the few moments when Bligh does marry physicality with his speech. Overall, though, disconnection from meaning makes the show increasingly seem like a recitation of lines, which numbs the audience and also accounts for some of the stumbles and lost words – the thought is not present in the moment.
The same vocal and physical patterns repeat, always with the sensation that more is to come: no thought ends, no sudden realisation strikes, we do not see thoughts as they happen. Extremes of passion – focused on in the programme – simply do not appear and other characters are sometimes strangely placed in the space and never fully realised through Hamlet’s reactions to them. Everything is spoken to thin air, even with the audience available to help fill it and to be those witnesses Hamlet addresses as he dies.
A One Man Hamlet is an ambitious play, which is not fully realised where the actor is not experiencing what happens AS it happens. Without this, the production is of interest but does not keep attention and really lacks the passion and scope of Shakespeare‘s creation.