Just as there are reasons why certain plays aren’t performed that often, there are reasons why a play like Shakespeare’s Hamlet retains an enduring popularity. There have been, as I have discovered over the years, many different ways to stage it, from a full-scale staging at the Royal Shakespeare Company right down to single performer versions in a pub theatre. This one, rather like the Almeida Theatre production playing (at the time of writing) its final week of West End performances at the Harold Pinter Theatre, is set in the modern era. Here, however, the only sense that the show is set in Denmark are in fleeting references to certain characters (those familiar with Hamlet will know the ones) setting off for England.
The set is quite beautiful, really, one of those fitted kitchens that one would find at Grand Designs Live or the Ideal Home Show. But, in the end, there’s little, if anything, regal about it. The Shakespeare text has not been modernised in a similar fashion to the set. Rather, it’s merely been trimmed, and trimmed a little too much. The lighting, while commensurate with the contemporary room, does nothing to create an atmosphere anywhere near dark enough for the events of the play’s last scenes. On the other hand, some others may appreciate the stark contrast.
As someone who seldom fails to comment on the pacing of a show if it is even slightly too slow, it is with much regret that I report this one is too speedy. To fully grasp what is going on, some prior knowledge of the play is of huge benefit, hence my earlier reference to another production – my mind went back to it more than once to help me place what point in the story this show was at.
Character development is hindered in the case of Hamlet (Benet Brandreth) in too much description and not enough dramatization (though what is acted out, I hasten to add, is very good). In the case of what I will call Everyone Else (between them, Gyles Brandreth and Kosha Engler), there are so many parts to play in so little time that much of the action is both too harried and too hurried. With relatively few costume changes, it does get slightly confusing with regards to who is whom and when.
The younger Brandreth does well in what I can only assume is Act III Scene II, impersonating the older one’s Claudius, or, if one wishes to interpret it as such, just impersonating the older one. But discussing madness is not the same as portraying it, and there’s too much of the former, such that it is difficult to maintain interest throughout.
While it is unmistakably Hamlet – the order of events has not, commendably, been altered – it comes across as a highlights version of a sporting fixture. And at least Match of the Day has commentary and panel analysis to assist with comprehending what went on. This is a well-acted and well-directed production, but it has had so much ruthlessly removed from the unabridged version that it has lost a lot of its potential power and poignancy.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Approximately Right Productions in association with Park Theatre presents
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Simon Evans & David Aula
Script edited by Imogen Bond
Cast includes: Benet Brandreth, Gyles Brandreth and Kosha Engler
Directed by Simon Evans (Arturo Ui Donmar Warehouse, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Southwark Playhouse, The Dazzle and Bug Found 111), this is Hamlet stripped to its core and played by three members of one family: Gyles Brandreth, Benet Brandreth, Kosha Engler – father, son and wife. A family gathering, haunted, claustrophobic, intense.
With a running time of 90 minutes, this Hamlet blasts through our expectations of a familiar text offering a unique take on Shakespeare’s most famous play, performed by a unique cast.
BENET BRANDRETH – Hamlet
GYLES BRANDRETH – Ghost, Claudius, Polonius, Player King
KOSHA ENGLER – Horatio, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz
SIMON EVANS AND DAVID AULA – DIRECTORS
POLLY SULLIVAN – DESIGNER
STUART WEBB – LIGHTING DESIGNER
ROBERT MOUTREY – SOUND DESIGNER
JAMES ASQUITH – PRODUCTION MANAGER
NATHALIE GUNZLE – STAGE MANAGER
ERIN RUTTER – PRODUCTION ELECTRICIAN
IMOGEN BOND – SCRIPT EDITOR
WILLIAM TROTTER – VOICE WORK
By William Shakespeare
Plays: 22 Aug – 16 Sep 2017