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Review of Hamlet Our Brother at The Jack Studio Theatre

Hamlet our brother by Julia Stubbs Hughes - Photo by Tim Stubbs Hughes
Hamlet our brother by Julia Stubbs Hughes – Photo by Tim Stubbs Hughes

It does, I suppose, fit the bill of being ‘a version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet’. Hamlet Our Brother is a stripped-down version of the lengthiest of the Bard’s plays, with the inevitable positives and drawbacks that brings. We are spared, for instance, the ramblings of Polonius (even if there is much in them, particularly if studied at an academic level, to be drawn out); on the other hand, much of the majesty of the Danish royal court is also dispensed with. All characters that feature in this version of Hamlet are played by Jeffrey Mundell, who displays a broad versatility, more than capable of handling the various emotions and personalities of different characters. That members of the audience were whispering, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio” before the line was even delivered, is testament to how convincing Mundell’s performance was.

That one voice speaks for many does not mean absurd falsettos for characters such as Gertrude and Ophelia; the former ‘appears’ only by association and the latter, to the best of my recollection, not at all. The cuts in Julia Stubbs Hughes’ version are quite ruthless, slicing at least an hour and a half off a totally unabridged Hamlet. Invariably some people may feel somewhat cheated or deprived of a full play, and while no scene is rushed through, there was the inescapable thought that lingers in my mind that this production thunders through the script a tad faster than it ought to.

Many moons ago, I saw a production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which has a similar idea to Hamlet Our Brother, telling the story from a very different angle. But it was only until I had gotten around to watching a production of Hamlet itself that I understood what Stoppard’s play was even about. I wonder how someone who wasn’t seen a full Hamlet would receive this production: I suspect it would be with difficulty. Those of us who happened to have some prior familiarity were able to follow events closely enough, and I cannot fault the acting.

The problem is with the script, or rather how it has been used. In its over-reliance on lines from the original, this show doesn’t come close to achieving what Stoppard did with his play, that is, fully present a different point of view on events in Hamlet. Horatio, whose perspective Hamlet Our Brother is meant to be derived from (as opposed to Hamlet himself), outlines an alternative ending. With everything that came before it being more or less unchanged, the said alternative, when it finally arrived, was very short. It felt as though it were tacked on to the end; an afterthought, if you will, thrown in for good measure like the production had wanted to say, “See? See? Different! Shakespeare but not Shakespeare!”

Katie Nicoll’s lighting design is subtle and effective, and in a smaller studio space, some of Shakespeare’s lines are given a more understated treatment, without the near-constant hair dryer approach of some of the larger Hamlet productions. But, particularly in 2016, marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s passing, when there are significantly more Shakespeare and Shakespeare-based productions than usual, it’s not entirely clear to me what exactly Hamlet Our Brother brings to the table in terms of offering anything particularly insightful or provocative. Good acting, though, as I say, and if you like your one-actor one-act shows, you’ll very likely enjoy this one too.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

20 South Street present
Hamlet our Brother
a version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet
by Julia Stubbs Hughes

“Purpose is but the slave to memory”
Hamlet the King is dead. Hamlet the Prince is dead. All are dead but one. Horatio alone survives, standing amongst the fallen. Hamlet our brother brings Horatio, the observer to a tragedy, centre stage in this one man exploration into the aftermath of Shakespeare’s most famous play.

Julia Stubbs Hughes has taken Shakespeare’s Hamlet and using only the play’s text, recreated it into an invigorating, one-man re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, told from a new perspective.

Julia’s first play Summer, an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s ground-breaking novel, premiered at the Jack Studio Theatre in 2012 and was then published. She is currently developing her third play, a stage adaptation of Anais Nin’s short novel Stella.

Listings Information
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2D

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