THE COCKPIT THEATRE.
This newly adapted production is full of sound and fury, but carries a troubling lack of subtlety.
Director Gavin Davis has adapted and cut the English Repertory Theatre’s production of Hamlet to make it ‘accessible and fun’ for modern audiences. It’s set largely in a schoolroom of restless teenagers, including Hamlet and Ophelia, who are taught by public-schoolmaster Horatio.
It’s also being promoted as having ‘no ghost’ and ‘no equivocation’ – only revenge.
But there are a number of problems with this approach.
The spectre of Hamlet’s father creates a supernatural, chilling opening to the play – within the first few words we are already on tenterhooks, as anxious and jumpy as the guards on duty.
Other productions have done away with the ghost – Jonathan Pryce, for example, played Hamlet as possessed by his father’s spirit, and spoke all the lines himself.
But here, the key motivation for Hamlet’s subsequent actions is lost in a noisy schoolgirl tease. For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, there is simply no untangling the sense of this vital opening scene.
Rachel Waring plays Hamlet with a rough, swaggering confidence, making him much more an irritable teen than a tormented grown-up. Waring is without doubt a gifted and charismatic actor. But while her restless energy conveys youthful vigour and self-righteousness, there is scarcely a moment’s pause in her performance, which remains in top gear throughout, physically and vocally. Her director has specifically insisted on ‘no equivocation’ – but stripping Hamlet of his anguished doubts and deliberations is a dangerous decision, and one that leaves this Prince high and dry on more than one occasion.
Nina Bright is a beautiful, intelligent and sharp-witted Ophelia, while Oliver Hume captures much of Polonius’s pedantry and family pride. However after being stabbed by Hamlet, his wounded death-crawl away from the chamber is so slow as to be mesmerising, and all eyes are on him rather than the on the furious exchanges between Hamlet and his mother.
Helen Bang plays a nervy, anxious Gertrude, but neither she nor Waring really manage to establish the nature of the relationship between mother and son. The crude leg-opening during their quarrel is no substitute for a subtler understanding of the Prince’s cause for anger, and Gertrude’s despair at her son’s behaviour.
Jon House brings a welcome gravitas to Claudius, and the clarity of his verse speaking helps to ground the production, not least when he and Laertes (Alexander Neal) are plotting the death of Hamlet by subterfuge.
There’s nothing wrong with trimming the script, nor with imaginative settings and characterisations. But when the sense of the play is lost along the way, the state of Denmark is in deep trouble.
• Until 15 March 2015
www.thecockpit.org.uk 0207 258 2925