REVIEW – Shakespeare for Breakfast

*****

This year Shakespeare for Breakfast – a perennial favourite with many Fringe-goers – tackles Hamlet with humour, a mix of contemporary and Elizabethan language, and an afro wig. There are also projections on a hung sheet, giving locations and times of events and allowing one performer to appear as two characters simultaneously, one face on screen and one on stage.

The cast of five flit nimbly through the tale with self-referential comedy and clear characters. Hamlet seems more a spoilt teenager than the 23 year old he is claimed to be in this production, and what really matters to him is his desire to be a film director, somewhat pushing aside his father’s likely murder. This allows for film student references galore, which will mostly appeal to film students and those who know film students. The device works in conjunction with the projections – ‘the film’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king’ – but the setting images are pretty much redundant (and can be a little annoying on actors’ faces), as are the white blocks moved about the stage, which have their strongest use in the short grave scene and barely merit presence else. In general, there is a lack of imagination on show for set and props, evident even when taking this show individually and particularly obvious in contrast to previous shows (comparisons will be made for a long-running series such as this).

There is skill in the adaptation of Hamlet to a comedy, with Shakespeare’s words well used and put into contexts that help them to be clearly communicated through competent performances. There are lots of amusing modern references, particularly relating to films, and the contemporary setting allows interesting ideas, such as a Skype call between Laertes and Polonius, and references to 3D woven into a rather famous – and very much adapted – speech. There are, however, a couple of vital ingredients missing from the usual S4B brew: there is little real connection to the audience, such as direct acknowledgement and interaction, and there is a lack of playful warmth, of generosity of spirit that truly bonds characters, cast and audience. Instead, there is a feeling of clinical superficiality to this production, despite its amusement factor, and the sexual references – rather than being fun nods at Shakespeare’s bawdiness – risk crossing the line on what is suitable for a family-friendly show.

That said, Shakespeare for Breakfast’s Hamlet does offer plenty of laughs and the threads of Shakespeare and modern elements are well-woven through the script, providing early bardic entertainment along with coffee and croissants.
5-31 August (not 18), 10:00 (10:50), C

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