Goodnight, Sweet Prince, I Sing Thee to Thy Well-Deserved Rest!

A tragic story of loss, family and madness that has stunned and captured audiences since its conception, Hamlet is a difficult play for an actor or director to contend with. The complexities of each character and the specificity of their suffering demands dedication to whatever role an actor is tasked with to properly give the play justice. Hamlet is a play that is impossible to do properly without a collaboration and passion from its cast to capture the intense emotion the writing provokes. This cast did not disappoint. Whether they were playing the conflicted Queen Gertrude to the un-concerned gravedigger every actor upon that stage performed admirably and convincingly to bring Shakespeare’s masterpiece to life.

Were I to surmise my conclusions of the performance I would suggest that it was a performance of partners. Actors whose performances alone would have been strong but heightened by the chemistry with their fellow stage-mates so that the intensity of each interaction had my eyes glued to the stage. These interactions came together with an excellent and often clever use of the stage and leaving feeling and tension within the space between actors, or even lack of in some cases. Coupled with the fabulous use of physical action to incorporate humour left moments of brightness in an otherwise tragic tale of suffering. Similarly, I feel the cast enjoyed themselves on stage despite the severity of their roles with the sheer amount of pastries and snacks available to them through the intense monologues!

The relationship of Hamlet (Mike Fish) and Horatio (Alex Dybell) particularly stood out. The simplicity of the constant loyalty and affection that while silent was present whenever they were on stage together was a great change from the great complexity of Hamlet’s other relationships. Fish portrayed a great change in Hamlet’s character from his false madness in the face of his family to the honest and gentle hero he appears as when in Horatio’s company. The clear love and affection between the two culminated into the heart-wrenching final scene of loss in their parting and I’ll admit to the stray tear at Dybell’s portrayal of Horatio’s devastation curled over Hamlet’s prone form.

The performances of Owen Watts and Catherine Mary as King Claudius and Queen Gertrude respectively are likewise to be commended in the portrayal of the complexity of their relationship in the unsaid. Even in the background, the natural closeness they portrayed when even not at the forefront of the action was constant and powerful. Indeed, I found myself conflicted in the seeming purity of their love for one another against the harsh damnation of Hamlet and his claims of incest and betrayal. Watching the easiness of their interaction and their honesty left me pondering upon the complexity of their characters and indeed the balance of good and evil in their position within the play. I was almost convinced of Claudius’ innocence and good will in my simple affection for this relationship until the revelation of his fratricide despite having been familiar with the play.

A platonic relationship that held great sway for me was the almost comic relief of the friendship between Rosencrantz (Joey Hazeltine) and Guildenstern (George Ellingham). The chemistry between the actors was undeniable and even more impressive was their contrast of character. Both characters portrayed almost in opposition with Guildenstern’s calm confidence and Rosencrantz’s nervous awkwardness but with the familiarity of a long friendship had a powerful effect in their interactions both with each other and others. The breakdown of their relationship with Hamlet was the best expression of the Hegelian nature of the play; their foundation of friendship and early affection compromised by their forced inclusion in the war of will between the royal family and their perception of Hamlet’s ‘madness’. The loneliness and isolation of Hamlet’s character so wonderfully portrayed by Fish became evident in the fracture of their relationship.

I must also credit Jessica Gittins’ interpretation of Ophelia. The military interpretation immediately gives a strength to an independent female character that I have found lacking in other adaptations. Gittins represented Ophelia’s strength and independence but also her vulnerability in her love for Hamlet without entirely embodying her as a stereotypical ‘victim’ or ‘damsel-in-distress’ which would be easy to fall into. Her performance, caught between her love for Hamlet and her father’s machinations, made her suffering at Hamlet’s anger and distrust from the betrayal of his mother all the more tragic and realistic and I felt her pain more profoundly. It made a sharp contrast to the downright frightening portrayal of her madness after her father’s death which was physically uncomfortable to watch and made the breakdown from the previously strong and confident young woman indisputably tragic.

A play of strong performances all round then, of that I have no doubt. My only disappointment was in the character of Polonius (Huw Evans) whose vocal performance of his lines would have otherwise have been flawless were it not a simple but distracting mistake. I would have been entirely sucked into the action were it not for the constant reminders of David Suchet’s performance as the Narrator in Peter Pan Goes Wrong with the bulky folder resting in Evan’s arms throughout each scene and open as though reading from a storybook. While the prop was effective in most scenes due to Polonius’ ministerial position, the moment was somewhat ruined in more private and emotional moments.

That being said, I was entirely stunned by the quality of the acting by each individual member of the company and was kept on the edge of my seat through what can be a long and arduous spectacle. A fantastic night out and I look forward to seeing any future productions the directors make. May the curtains close on a very proud and, no doubt, tired cast. Bravo!