The day may not be here yet, but there will come a time when an audience will be gender, BAME, LGBT+ [add a very long list] blind. What will matter is the right person for the right role. Importantly, there is a tendency to force this issue at the moment and yt2’s version of Hamlet is no different. The more we come to look at this as the way forward, and less like a gimmick, the more enriched our community becomes. Joanne Denson Stockdale, in an accomplished production, perhaps should have allowed the “conscience of a King to be pricked” rather than force gender roles on characters that could easily have borne the transition. I get the debate. I just felt Shakespeare can handle it.
This was a very zippy Hamlet with some great pace and few missteps. Occasionally the power in the language was sacrificed in order to move the story on, but at 2.5 hours (abridged) it never lost sight of the complex, very real dimensions as characters rose and fell by ambition and consequence.
It’s so important to grab the audience from the off and by clever use of lights, sound and original music (the brilliant Tom George,) Joanne snapped the audience into a cold visitation. I was transported away from the venue. Such care here from the production team. A ‘holographic’ ghost – how very cool. Shadow craft to bring a celestial quality to the play within a play. “To be or not to be” delivered with smoke suggesting an apparition listening to the soliloquy. It worked.
Holly McLachlan as the gin swigging, ‘Everything but the Girl’ Hamlet gave a splendid, and unusual, performance. Less neurotic and wrought, more poised, vengeful and ultimately accepting of the course chosen. The tightrope of the bloody last act (tragedy/unintended comedy) was completely avoided because Holly had set a believable course throughout. Death was where she intended to be. By design, not by accident. Very convincing. Becky Birkett-Mills was utterly irredeemable as Claudia (good for her). Jem Rycraft (Gertrude) nailed the emotional beats showing universality when it comes to poor life choices, guilt and regret. Ironically, his performance probably did the most for demonstrating that non gender specific casting is here to stay.
Most of the cast cut fast and loose with iambic pentameter (it isn’t essential these days), but the use of rhythm in language is a skill and Matilda Murphy (Laertes) had it. Susy Nutt is an Abba fan – or at least the gravedigger is. Thankfully, Susy stood out for her naturalism not her silent discoing. Georgie Denson’s bohemian Ophelia was a free-spirited choice, performed well, and is a great flower-crusher. I can only imagine trying to perform Strindberg in Swedish so all credit to Jes Gislason. Alec Sleigh (Polonius) was very much the David Garrick of the piece complete with period makeup.
“Who needs another Hamlet?” is probably a question everyone has asked. I asked it. A wet trudge in February to Hanger Farm Arts Centre to see ‘Shakespeare’. Anyone who did venture out was rewarded with an intelligent, driven, thought-provoking, and well produced/directed ensemble piece. Everyone should be very proud of their achievement.
Indeed, the Hanger Farm Arts Centre should feel very proud of maintaining such a high standard. This is a cracking venue. A great space, with a committed team who bring the place to life. Unfortunately, there are no more performances of Hamlet but a quick scan of upcoming events – Dad’s Army Radio Show, The Navy Lark – means I am already sold. Give it a go.