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Hamlet by William Shakespeare presented by Acting Gymnasium | Review

It’s a production of Hamlet that starts at 7:30pm and manages to come down on the ‘right’ side of 10:30pm – the hardcore fans and followers of productions of Shakespeare plays will, no doubt, have some fun (if that is the operative word) working out what precisely has been left out of the text (a 1996 unabridged film adaptation runs to just over four hours). I’m not entirely sure when this production chooses to place the narrative: the attire is mostly contemporary, with Claudius (Michael Claff) looking more like a chief executive or a newspaper editor than a king.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare presented by Acting Gymnasium
Hamlet by William Shakespeare presented by Acting Gymnasium

But in many ways this version is undoubtedly in the Middle Ages: there are messengers that bring, well, messages – and not even a hint of modern technology is utilised (unlike, for instance, the Almeida Theatre’s 2017 production, which came complete with CCTV and security radios with earpieces). It’s also worth briefly revisiting the question as to why, if the former king, Hamlet’s father (Alan Kenny), died, is Hamlet (J Carlos Lacey) himself not king by way of succession: Denmark used to have an elective monarchy, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but involved the country’s parliament voting for their next ruler.

This was a largely faithful and far less radical rendering of a Shakespeare play from Acting Gymnasium, relative to some of their other Shakespeare shows over the years. Here, only the briefest of scenes creates a nightclub atmosphere when the players (Sanquen Pino, Lina Cherrat, JT Stocks, Jess Olim) come calling. The final scene is as harrowing and intense as any decent production of Hamlet would provide, supplying pathos without melodrama. That said, there are outpourings of emotion – Queen Gertrude (Emma Wilkinson Wright) appeared to be even more unhinged in Act III Scene IV than Ophelia (Anna Walden) was in Act VI Scene V (not that the latter was any less disturbing).

The stage movements to set up subsequent scenes are covered well with recorded music, with some inventive stagecraft for the churchyard scene in Act V Scene I. The play isn’t classed as a tragedy for the sake of it, and in the closing moments of the production, one is reminded of the many people who have died in the global pandemic. That Guildenstern (Nathalie Haley) is a woman in this production is almost entirely immaterial, holding her own at court alongside Rosencrantz (Sam Stewart) with a refreshing flair.

Lacey’s Hamlet, meanwhile, captures the prince’s humanity and vulnerability very well indeed – this is, in the end, a character with a brilliant mind that goes from sorrow at his father’s passing to sheer outrage at what is happening both at a personal and a political level. The production does well to assert the notion that virtually everyone else believes Hamlet to have lost his mind, while also highlighting what is often sound thinking. It utilises the available stage space well for the most part (very few in the audience actually see “Polonius slain”, though a part of me feels I am clutching at straws on that point), and held my attention throughout, which is more than can be said for some other productions of this popular play I’ve come across over the years. A passionate and polished performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

by William Shakespeare
Presented by Acting Gymnasium
Recent RADA graduate J. Carlos Lacey takes the lead in this version of the Shakespeare classic, running from Monday 14th – Saturday 19th June at the socially distanced Tower Theatre.

Directed by Gavin McAlinden
Designed by Camille Etchart
Lighting by Paige Leaf-Wright
Original music by James Jones

Following the recent success of our production of Antony and Cleopatra – described by critics as the hottest ticket in town – the Acting Gymnasium returns with a new production exploration of this classic.

Tower Theatre, 16 Northwold Rd, London N16 7HR


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