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Hamlet at the Dorfman Theatre | Review

Years ago, when I was at high school, we were taken to see a cut-down, child-friendly version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I really enjoyed it and it was the start of my interest in theatre in general and The Bard in particular. So, when I was invited to the Dorfman to see Hamlet in a version that has been reimagined for young audiences, I leapt at the chance.

Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer as Hamlet and Claire Redcliffe as Gertrude in Hamlet for younger audiences at the NT (c) Ellie Kurttz
Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer as Hamlet and Claire Redcliffe as Gertrude in Hamlet for younger audiences at the NT (c) Ellie Kurttz.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The king is dead, and his brother Claudius (Vedi Roy) has not only succeeded to the throne but also taken as his wife – and queen – his dead brother’s wife Gertrude (Claire Redcliffe). All of this rankles somewhat with the old king’s son Prince Hamlet (Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer) who is not only having to deal with the death of his father but also the normal angst of a young man that has fallen in love. The object of his affection is Ophelia (Jessica Alade) daughter to Polonius (David Ahmad) – chief counsellor to the king – and sister to Laertes (Chanel Waddock). Hamlet is a moody chap and spends time contemplating life and his deceased father.

Then one night, his father appears to Hamlet and tells him that he did not die of natural causes but was murdered by Claudius. Following this visitation, Hamlet’s behaviour becomes very erratic and in despair, the king and queen send for Rosencrantz (Efé Agwele) and Guildenstern (Curtis Callier), two friends from Hamlet’s student days. As they make reacquaintance with their former friend, Hamlet devises a way to prove that Claudius murdered his father. The stage is set and, as they say, the play’s the thing.

I have to admit that if I was looking for a Shakespearean play to adapt for today’s youngsters, Hamlet would not be my first choice. For a start, it is Shakespeare’s longest play coming at somewhere between three and four hours usually. Also, with its storyline of regicide, fratricide, incest, madness, etc it may not be the most child friendly of The Bard’s works. But full credit to Jude Christian for managing to find a way to cut the running time to 65 minutes ensuring that the real essence of the story is intact and presented in a child-friendly way. This starts before the show does as the actors are on stage in Frankie Bradshaw’s very colourful costumes, which kept linked characters together. So, the king and queen were in green, Ophelia and Laertes in lilac and Guildenstern and Rosencrantz in red. It really worked as a device, but I would question the colours chosen as I would imagine anyone in the audience with red/green colour blindness would not have made the same link as those without. Director Tinuke Craig used the thrust stage with side and back entry points to great effect and everyone had a good view of the action. Speaking of which, a massive round of applause to Fight Director Jeremy Barlow, whose very effective choreography of the big fight scene really had the audience on the edge of their seats and gasping with shock at the ferocity of it.

The cast really threw themselves into the performance and I must take my hat off to Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer for his portrayal of the tortured Prince. Hamlet has a lot of soliloquies and moments where he really needs to get and hold the entire audience’s attention as he bares his troubled soul before them, and Kebaili-Dwyer really delivered. Not just the famous “to be or not to be” but also the lesser-known monologues that give you a real insight into the prince’s soul were delivered beautifully and the mostly school-age audience hung on every word.

As someone who was familiar with the story but has not yet seen a full version of the play, I’m happy to say that this old bloke really enjoyed this version of Hamlet. It was wonderful to see the reaction of the children in the audience as Shakespeare’s wonderful words and phrases came over the footlights and showed the true beauty of language that transcends generations. If you are wondering what to do with the sprogs this Easter holiday, then I would recommend you take them to see Hamlet. They, and you, will not only have a fantastic time but you never know, the child you take could have their creative spark ignited and become the next great writer, who’s worked is remembered and still performed centuries after their own time.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

‘To be or not to be…’
Hamlet’s dad is dead. His uncle has taken over the kingdom and married Hamlet’s mum. The whole world feels like it’s turned upside down.
A ghostly encounter reveals a dreadful deed has been done. Should Hamlet take revenge?
‘That is the question.’

Rosencrantz – Efé Agwele
Polonius – David Ahmad
Ophelia – Jessica Alade
Swing – Rianna Ash
Guildenstern – Curtis Callier
Swing – Montel Douglas
Hamlet – Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer
Gertrude – Claire Redcliffe
Claudius – Vedi Roy
Laertes – Chanel Waddock

Production Team
Director Tinuke Craig
Adaptor Jude Christian
Designer Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting Designer Paul Knott
Composer and Musical Director Dom Coyote
Sound Designer Clark Henry-Brown
Fight Director Jeremy Barlow
Movement Director Morgann Runacre-Temple
Associate Movement Director Emily Thompson Smith
Associate Director Ellie Hurt

by William Shakespeare
reimagined for young audiences by Jude Christian and directed by Tinuke Craig
Playing until 6 April
Running Time: 65 minutes
Suitable for ages 8 – 12.

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