Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Andrew Hilton
Designer: Max Johns
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Bristol’s Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory has a reputation for clear narrative and radical interpretations, but this year’s Hamlet, directed by Artistic Director Andrew Hilton, doesn’t entirely convince on the first count and makes no attempt at the second.
While its companion on tour, All’s Well that Ends Well, is reimagined, Hamlet is simply cut. A performance that comes in at less than three hours, including a 20-minute interval, has either been spoken very fast or lost hundreds of lines – at times, both these are true of the Tobacco Factory version. Oddly Hilton is averse to the cut complete: Reynaldo (smartly played by Marc Geoffrey) remains; the Fortinbras on the march scene is represented by a brief snapshot; Osric (again well played by the same Mr. Geoffrey) is still allowed to doff his hat and frolic in his word-play. Instead, the second half in particular, suffers from sadly mauled scenes to the extent that the narrative, well served by the clarity of verse speaking, loses focus and one almost suspects that the director may be relying on the fact that this is the one play everyone knows.
The interpretation of Hamlet himself is largely defined by the youth of the actor: after some experience in Ireland Alan Mahon is making his UK stage debut. Though credible as a confused and vaguely truculent youth, Mahon never suggests the princely charms the text demands. Nor does he project the moral and existential issues that Hamlet wrestles with. At his best when bouncing sardonic comments off Polonius or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Mahon is nevertheless seldom as interesting as Hamlet should be.
An oddity of the production is that, while Hamlet is very young, the friend of his youth, Horatio, is Alan Coveney – a stalwart performance, but decidedly mature. On the other hand Isabella Marshall’s very young Ophelia is the most vital performance of the evening, particularly in a harsh mad scene of furiously manic anger: one of the mysteries of the production, when he cut so much else, is why Hilton left in Laertes’ reference to her turning all to prettiness – it is much more chilling than that.
Paul Currier as Claudius, smoothly in control, self-contained and self-confident, excels when things fall apart and he reveals the cruelty beneath the mask. Julia Hills is a powerful and dramatic Gertrude, but rather on one agonised note. Ian Barritt’s amusing and convincing Polonius shows a remarkable ability to bumble at high speed. One of the major qualities of Hamlet as a play is the tremendous range of good acting parts, but here many of the smaller parts make little impact, though Nicky Goldie registers strongly as a Sexton (Gravedigger) deprived of his mate and half his lines and given a change of gender.
In the Scarborough In the Round the setting is established by unremarkable furniture, but Max Johns’ costume designs, in theperiod and suitably sombre, are handsome and effective.
Touring nationwide | Image:Mark Douet