By Danielle Farrow
Hamlet and Ophelia is advertised as having the genders of the characters decided by the audience. If that was done at the show being reviewed it must have happened before its starting time – not a good idea – and how it was managed is unknown to this reviewer. It would, however, help explain why, on a number of occasions, the swapped gender was not reflected in what was being said. Unfortunately, this highlighted the fact that performers did not always understand what they were saying. The promotion actually makes many boasting claims, unfulfilled in performance, including that the show places ‘the destinies of these ill-fated characters in the hands of the audience’. There was no evidence of this at all!
The company is very young – it looks to be a school group, not at all clear from its Fringe entry – and the dangers of attempting the play with such a cast show here. Hamlet herself had a nice line in mocking delivery, but little to no connection to the feelings of her character, let alone the ability to show changes of thought. She also had a number of reactions that were impossible – talking to the dead Polonius before she was in any position to even notice it was this counsellor she had killed, and saying someone was coming while looking in the opposite direction, with no audio clue anyone was approaching. The villainous Queen gave a performance strong in hateful intention, with confidence and presence, but with little nuance. The male Laertes and Ophelia had moments of believability, but mostly the cast are unconnected to any real emotion or thought, and many of them shift about a lot while speaking, a basic problem for untrained / untried actors.
Again, the blurb for the play is misleading regarding staging – it claims to be ‘a high energy new adaptation using contemporary multimedia theatre’. There are decent visual and aural production values – the lighting used, with smoke, effective for the ghost – and music often provides fine atmosphere, but this was strongest at the start and occasionally sound drowned out voice. Nor does a little light projection on the floor create a ‘multimedia’ show. Physicality was also promising in the beginning, and most of the fight sequences worked well (though one character did not know how to properly hold a basket hilt sword), but the tumbling of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had no discernible basis and often proved irritating.
The company has achieved a fairly clear story – despite a very jarring script cut – and perhaps can be applauded for trying to stretch its performers. There are some good ideas in its simple staging, using a box, a few buckets and a versatile partition, and there are some interesting choices made regarding playing with gender.
However, the philosophy of Hamlet disappears, there is no clear reason why this production should be called Hamlet and Ophelia, and the players are not up to the play. They are, in fact, badly served by an advertising description that promotes the production in a manner which they have no chance of living up to.
31 July – 9 August, 13:50 (15:15) @ C