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Hamlet: Rotten States at The Hope Theatre | Review

HAMLET ROTTEN STORIES by 6Foot Stories Photo by Matthew Koltenborn.
HAMLET ROTTEN STORIES by 6Foot Stories Photo by Matthew Koltenborn.

Fardels. Yeah, fardels. If you know your soliloquisation of tragic procrastinators you’ll know we’re talking Hamlet here. That is, of course, if you hadn’t already spotted it in the title. Hamlet, arguably the greatest play ever written, has lent itself, rather too often in my view, to various bastardisations in search of what we might term “further meaning” or “extra elucidation” perhaps. Some are good re-workings: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Dogg’s Hamlet are offerings from Tom Stoppard; The Reduced Shakespeare Company hands over the whole second half of its Complete Works to its speed-reading of the play. And I had the (dubious) privilege of watching Robert Vaughn communicate with the ghost of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida.

So when we alight upon Hamlet: Rotten States I think the first question we are entitled to ask about this Prince of Denmark masturbatory mash-up is – “Why?” The answer to that is “God knows”. Maybe. Or perhaps not even He can decipher the intricate machinations of a Luvvie hive-mind collective.

Is it entertaining? Vaguely. Is it funny? Not really. Does it make any sense? No. Does it engage an audience. Only if you know Hamlet, and probably only if you know Hamlet well. It’s not the greatest USP for a show to start from the premise that you’re only going to get this if you have an intimate knowledge of another play. If you don’t know that other play then perchance you won’t have a fardel’s chance in hell of understanding what the heck is going on. I do know Hamlet. I would like to think I know Hamlet well. And, for what it’s worth, my view is that Rotten States is complete nonsense.

The company responsible for this fardelisation of the Bard is 6FootStories. They generously credit William Shakespeare as the writer and then go on to tell us that it is “adapted by” the cast. What kind of insular, pretentious and highfalutin world do you live in to go round replying to the question “What do you do?” with “Me…? Oh, I adapt Shakespeare”. Fardel 1 (Will Bridges) – poncey red neckerchief and trainers – flits about a good deal and declaims Shakespeare’s words. Fardel 2 (Amy Fleming) – white bovver boots and a meerschaum – cavorts around a lot and enunciates Shakespeare’s words.

Fardel 3 (Jake Hassam) – top knot and comfortable sneakers – likes a pose and likes to project Shakespeare’s words. So Shakespeare’s words are the principle thing here but I’m reminded of (as I was by my Editor just the other day) André Previn’s venture into the Morecambe and Wise show all those years back. Previn tells Eric that he’s playing the wrong notes on the piano. Eric’s riposte is: “They’re the right notes. Just in the wrong order”. And that neatly encapsulates Hamlet: Rotten States. The right words, in the wrong order, with no earthly reason why this should be so.

The three actors perform well and the production values are sound. But the overriding feeling is that the show is great fun for the cast and rehearsal’s must have been a hoot but at the end of the day it’s really just – and I know people in the profession get exercised when I use this phrase – self-indulgent claptrap.

Or, put another way, it’s just a load of old fardels.

2 gold stars

Review by Peter Yates

Three gypsy players arrive in town, answering the call of a prince. It could be the beginning of a fairy tale, but alas, Hamlet’s in a rotten state. A dead father, a murderous uncle, and an adulterous mother. All eyes are on him as he falls apart and threatens a fragile and corrupt government.

Hamlet has hired this band of mischievous storytellers to perform a story of corruption, lust and murder most foul. He should be careful what he wishes for; once these rotten players get their hands on a story there’s no telling where it’ll go…

Cue a blistering reworking of Hamlet, performed by only three actors. Shakespeare’s longest play is reduced to a furious 75 minutes, full of ingenious theatricality and black comedy. 6FootStories return to The Hope with a follow-up to their acclaimed interpretation of Macbeth. They irreverently play with form and style as the gypsy players take charge, and as Hamlet makes his descent into madness, they make wicked farce of the rotten state of Denmark.

The play’s the thing, and the player is king.

hamlet: rotten states
14 Jan – 1 Feb 2020

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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