Hamlet Peckham – CLF Theatre, Bussey Building, Peckham

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Anthony Green
Reviewer: Daniel Perks


“The play’s the thing.” It can summon up great anguish, heartbreak and suspense all in a couple of minutes. Britain’s most-watched playwright, Shakespeare, seemed well aware of this when he penned Hamlet and 400 years later it still grips audiences all across the globe. Naturally it is commonplace to find twists to the traditional tale, creative devices that try and convey the complexities of this play in new and interesting ways. Anthony Green’s interpretation here sees Hamlet played by three different actors, the aim being to convey the different stages in his apparent descent into madness and treachery. Hamlet one (Sharon Singh) – the problem; Hamlet two (Max Calandrew) – the plan; Hamlet three (Izabella Urbanowicz) – the solution. The idea is there and the casting is effective but ultimately it feels more like a competition, a three-way tug of war as to who can be the audience favourite; the champion of ‘The Hamlet Games.’

Set designer Michael Leopold chooses a largely monochrome theme for this production with complementing costumes by Olivia Ward; trenchcoats and skullcaps add a sinister shroud to the proceedings. However, with such a stark colour scheme, there needs to be consistency – Calandrew’s dusky grey jumper stands out too much here.

Green &Leopold present some clever flourishes to the scene changes and as such are able to keep up the momentum of the play. Particular mention goes to Eva Savage who, as the gravedigger, lends a light-hearted touch in between some dark and intense scenes. Within the remainder of the supporting cast, the stand-out performances come from Polonius (Gil Sutherland) and daughter Ophelia (Diana Gómez). Sutherland clearly possesses a proficient grasp of Shakespearean text and delivers his lines with excellent pace and intonation, particularly when giving fatherly advice to his son (“To thine own self be true”). Gómez by contrast,has a largely unimpressive part until near the end of the tale when Ophelia is overcome with grief and madness at her father’s death. One look into her eyes is enough to convey a torrent of emotion that then comes pouring out in her speech.

As to the competition between the three leading Hamlets, this reviewer has little difficulty in choosing a winner. While Singh has a nervous disposition and a disbelief at seeing her father’s ghost (Pete Collis is intimidating and menacing without uttering a word), she is overshadowed by the other two. Calandrew is erratic and slightly crazed, perhaps an homage to Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. He has no fear of the more poignant passages, in particular when delivering “To be or not to be” and is clearly in control of the text. But the gold medal goes to Urbanowicz. On confronting the Queen (Pia Lanciotti) before murdering Polonius, Urbanowicz skips effortlessly between angry and vengeful to softer and more vulnerable, showing off numerous facets of the complex lead character that aren’t present in the others’ characterisations.

As one of the most-performed plays in history, it is always difficult to make Hamlet stand out. In the last ten years alone the lead role has been immortalised by David Tennant, Ben Whishaw, even Maxine Peake. This play is well considered and well executed. It has moments of great ingenuity, but they are merely moments in another pleasing and acceptable version of one of Shakespeare’s great works.

Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image: Ruth Bloch


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