By Danielle Farrow
Secret Theatre’s Hamlet is reduced to just 1 hour and 35 minutes, and races along at a great pace, as we see the tragedy that unfolds when the student prince Hamlet has reason to believe his uncle and new step-father murdered Hamlet’s father before swiftly marrying his mother. Famous sections are cut or gone completely, and what remains tells the action of the play clearly and with fresh ideas – a challenge for anyone putting on one of Shakespeare’s best known plays.
Set in the 1960s, this production includes music of the era, and some of the costume is clearly of this period, though this is not as obvious as it could be, particularly for the men, where we have again another Shakespeare in suits production. The interaction between characters is well handled for most, with direction and performances – particularly from Raphael Verrion as Hamlet and Denis Delahunt as Polonius – making sure that there is real life in the lines. Often these can be spouted by rote, but here strong choices and acting means that there are fresh thoughts, stimulated by others’ believable reactions. Also worthy of particular mention are Sonnie Beckett and Kerrie Thomason as Hamlet’s partying friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have an interesting, and drugs-related, relationship with Hamlet, with both actresses being very clear in intentions.
Ophelia’s situation is considered in an unusual way, interpreting some of her lines in a manner that mostly makes sense – though doesn’t quite gel with everything Hamlet says (but then, in what state is Hamlet at the time?) – and clearer articulation of thoughts and words, often lost to speed as well as weak consonants, would support the unusual ideas better. Where Ophelia confronts Hamlet, certain lines became code, part of an intriguing concept of this production, however, in the playing, there was no real feel of Ophelia being aware of watchers, which would call for this coded speaking, nor did direction make the watchers a real presence for the audience. Brooke Johnston did, however, bring deeper feeling to the broken Ophelia, and her final moments alive on stage were very effective, in playing and direction. This cannot be said of Gertrude, who seemed unconnected to real thought and feeling, let alone fellow players, pretty much throughout, and there were times when Horatio seemed to play surface only and comedy turns were a little unconnected, but overall performers were strong, making a fine ensemble, and the comedy found in the play and injected into the playing was also well served and able to truly entertain the audience.
Secret Theatre’s Hamlet boasts a very natural performance in Verrion’s prince – far more a man of action than is usual, given the cuts – and it earns its stars for a fresh take on the play, and the energy and interactive connection of its direction and most of its performers.
A strong production of one of Shakespeare’s finest plays.
Hamlet is on 31 July – 25 August (not 11), 16:45 (18:20) @ C too