This take on Hamlet occasionally has the feel of a production still in development. It starts with something which reminded me of ‘circle time’, facilitated by The Voice (Micha Colombo), an unseen character. A microphone is effectively the ‘talking object’ that facilitates discussion, with only the person holding it permitted to speak at any given time, such that it’s passed around the circle. For a while, the company all wear the same thing. Would this suggest the audience is supposed to see them all as equal? That sense of egalitarianism doesn’t last, of course, especially as it isn’t long before Hamlet (Michael Hawkey, making his professional debut) is addressed as “my lord” and starts issuing instructions that are duly obeyed. That much is expected.
But the production doesn’t give much sense of this being a royal palace, in part because so many characters have been cut out. The ghost of Hamlet’s father isn’t listed in the programme, although one does appear, voiced by so many people that I was left wondering if he (yes, I’m being presumptive about pronouns here) has five or six split personalities. It’s tempting to think that dispensing with Polonius as an on-stage character spares the audience from his rambling speeches – but he has ‘only’ eighty-six lines, and setting aside previous knowledge of this play from past reading and seeing other productions, not seeing the context in which Polonius is slain leaves one wondering why he was killed in the first place, especially as in this version, he quite literally didn’t say or do anything.
Neither King nor Queen are ever visible, which makes the play within a play in Act III Scene II rather unique. With Their Majesties and Lord Polonius out of sight, the ‘players’ perform their show uninterrupted, in a deliberately hammy performance that had much of the audience chuckling away – but the forced rhyming of, for example, ‘prove’ and ‘love’, the latter pronounced ‘loorve’, as well as that of ‘flies’ and ‘enemies’ (‘en-ee-mighs’) is a joke repeated a little too often. The production makes some good use of video technology, though nothing on a par with the Almeida Theatre’s 2017 production. Still, Ophelia’s (Lexine Lee) final scene is shot well, in more than one sense of the word, and the manner of keeping score in the Act V duel was, thanks to television screens on stage, almost like watching a video game being played.
For whatever reason, Hawkey’s Hamlet begins his graveyard speech with “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well,” not that he didn’t necessarily, Yorick being the former jester to the royal household, but practically anyone with a working knowledge of the play knows Shakespeare’s text reads, “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio”. It stood out to my fellow theatregoers as a point of irritation, and to me as odd, as Horatio (Alex Zur) isn’t one of the various characters excised from this adaptation.
A remarkable number of actors are making their professional debuts in this show, which is, of course, something to be heartily welcomed. That said, if it comes across as a student production (and, frankly, it does), it began life as a student production, with the aim of featuring only the younger characters in the play. This gives the performances an accompanying enthusiasm and vibrancy but the show doesn’t provide the audience with a rounded enough perspective. Seeing things only through the eyes of youth is as limiting as the show would be if the younger characters were removed and just the older ones left.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Above else: To thine own self be true.
Hamlet’s father is dead, his mother remarried to his uncle – who has just become King.
Told through the eyes and experience of the young characters (yes, the adults are gone) Shakespeare’s monumental play comes to the stage in this ravishing, modern, physical and fast-paced ensemble production. Denmark will never be the same again.
Lazarus Theatre Company presents
by William Shakespeare
12 JAN – 4 FEB 2023