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Francesca Zoutewelle: Ophelia in Hamlet at Trafalgar Studios

Hamlet by Flute TheatreFlute Theatre Company’s critically-acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, adapted by Kelly Hunter, comes to the intimate space of Trafalgar Studios this December in a co-production with English Touring Theatre. This thrilling and bold production has its West End premiere after wowing audiences across Europe.

Flute Theatre’s Hamlet delves deep into the divided self of the protagonist. The unique company of 6 actors keep the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy, condensing the action into the single, bloody night of Hamlet’s mother’s wedding. By dawn, only a gravedigger will be alive… This is Hamlet as you’ve never seen before.

As well as adapting, Hunter directs Mark Arends (Hamlet), Finlay Cormack (Laertes), David Fielder (Polonius/ Gravedigger), Tom Mannion (Claudius), Katy Stevens (Gertrude) and Francesca Zoutewelle (Ophelia). 

Hamlet, alone in his bedroom, is possessed by the tortured ghost of his father, rising from his own disturbed consciousness. Grief is transferred from person to person, spreading like poison through the family, and demonstrating how trauma can have wide-reaching consequences. The production tears open the wound at the heart of the play to explore Shakespeare’s existential opening question: who’s there?  

This ninety-minute version features six actors and a sofa. It explores notions of the divided self and the transference of grief within one impossible claustrophobic night, shining a spotlight on mental health issues in our modern world. Kelly Hunter is the Artistic Director of Flute.

Francesca Zoutewelle in Hamlet
Francesca Zoutewelle

Francesca Zoutewelle, who plays the role of Ophelia, took time out to answer a few questions about the production.

Q: What attracted you to be a part of this production?
Francesca: This production started as a workshop. A three-week exploration of a classic text I have always wanted to investigate but from a slightly new angle. I love workshops. I love the process of discovery. We were then invited to Poland, to Gdansk Shakespeare Festival. And after performing there it turned into a tour across Europe. It has a life of its own this play.

Q: What can you tell us about your Ophelia?
Francesca: Ophelia is made up of her love for Hamlet. She is the only one he can try to express it to. The only person close enough to him to see/feel the effects of what he’s going through. He passes this trauma on to her and in turn she spreads it amongst the family. She is a victim of trauma. And because her love is deep. So is her pain.

Q: What can you tell us about this ‘stripped back’ production of Hamlet?
Francesca: The language is our central driving force. All character, all narrative, lives in the language. So in that sense it is ‘stripped-back’ but only in a way that lets the words be heard. This gives it a certain intensity, a claustrophobia.

Q: How does this version compare to Shakespeare’s original?
Francesca: There are only 7 characters and a sofa. It runs at 90 minutes.

Q: What would you tell Shakespeare purists about this show?
Francesca: It gets to the quick of the ulcer.

Q: Which other of Shakespeare’s plays would you like to see ‘stripped-back’?
Francesca: Well, Flute have started exploring Pericles and with that we have spent a lot of time discussing the later plays. Pericles is a play with many challenges but it’s got magic and hope and affirmation of life. I’d love to see that dream evolve

Q: Why should everyone get along to see this production?
Francesca: What’s great about this show is if you know nothing about Shakespeare you will be surprised and if you know everything about Shakespeare you will be surprised. I think it’s as bold as the play might have first come across.

Francesca Zoutewelle plays Ophelia. Her theatre credits include All My Sons (Rose Theatre Kingston), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Filter/Brisbane Festival/Dublin Festival), Into The Woods, Britannia Waves The Rules (Manchester Royal Exchange), Merlin (Royal and Derngate), The Last Days of Troy (Shakespeare’s Globe) and A Christmas Carol (Birmingham Rep). For television, her credits include Agatha Raisin, Lewis, Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly; and for film, The Head Hunter and Mr Turner.

There’s nothing out of place in this charismatic and energetic show, which turned out to be an incredible experience from start to finish. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time this production is performed on British shores; this fresh and vibrant tour-de-force spectacle truly deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. An absolute triumphReview of Flute Theatres Hamlet By Chris Omaweng

Trafalgar Studios
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Press performances: Thursday 8 December 3pm and 7pm

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  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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