Review of Hamlet by Simon Blood DeVay

Well what can I say? … Bravo! It seems right, but not enough for the wonderfully intimate production of Hamlet that we enjoyed – courtesy of Rooftop Theatre at Ludlow Brewery – last night.

It’s hard to imagine a better opening night, being familiar with the animal that is live performance and the trepidation of that first show to an objective audience. Let me be clear, this is an abridged interpretation of Shakespeare’s longest play, keeping the show down to just over 2 hrs.; that said, I believe purists will find plenty to enjoy here as nothing of substance is lost and the resulting pace only adds to the drama.

An ensemble piece with great character portrayals throughout, there were stand-out performances of course, but I’ll endeavor to encompass them all. Apologies in advance for any oversights. After all; I’m an Actor first, audience member second, and reviewer… some way further down the list.

Dan Wilby as Hamlet

Let’s put it simply; the play’s called Hamlet, the play’s brilliant, ergo Dan’s brilliant. RADA trained (evidently) he’s utterly credible and convincing in the role. His emotional range was vast and pitched perfectly (annoyingly he’s also a great singer and vocal coach, so probably has perfect pitch too!) There were many highlights to his performance, but right at the outset I loved the handling of the “Ghost” scene. Where many performances grow as the show progresses and the actors relax, Dan was strong from the outset “like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.” Plant: coltsfoot - justice shall be done.

Ewan Gibb as Polonius

Masterful, seeing his portrayal made me wish I’d become aware of him earlier. This was one of the most accessible, warm and entertaining portrayals I’ve seen of a Shakespearean character, full-stop. Being the glue between all the principals, he balanced father, statesman and conspirator, with a hint of fool in a tour de force performance. Plant: valerian - an accommodating disposition.

Poppy “the Machine” Wilde as Ophelia

I say “the Machine” fondly, as Poppy consistently delivers accurate, articulate, performances time-and-again. She also remains far truer to her LAMDA Speech & Drama training, than I (who has rather let the RP slip with passing years). Highlights of this show for me were her spurning by Hamlet at the height of his “affected” madness and most memorably “there’s rosemary that’s for remembrance…” A beautifully delivered piece, that reminds us of the contemporary language of flowers; so much more prevalent then, than our comparatively naïve, red roses on Valentine’s Day efforts. Plant: rue - grace and repentance.

Morgan Rees-Davies as Laertes

I’ll be honest, I’ve been Directed by Morgan and hope to work with him again. That said, he is my “Mr. Shakespeare”. In rare moments of downtime at Tech-Rehearsals, etc. I’ve seen him prowl the stage reciting Shakespeare in preparation for auditions at the RSC to local performances, etc. Tall and brooding (which could just as easily be his name), Morgan brings a dark energy to the stage that is palpable. That said, personally he’s as warm and affable a creature as you could hope to meet, proving that Acting is happening. I know he knows that I mean this well: Morgan fits Shakespeare, like a stripper fits their pole! His audience sits in the darkness, knowing what’s to come will be entertaining, exciting and illuminating. As Laertes, he balances being a brother, son and erstwhile friend wonderfully. Trying and failing to extricate this review from the ‘stripper’ simile, watch-out for his performance at the climax. Plant: clematis - filial love.

Peter Gillham as Claudius

“Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” and let’s face it, it’s Claudius. And yes, it’s a cliché (that I wholeheartedly subscribe to) that ‘Baddies’ are the most fun to play. Well, Peter obviously reveled in this role throughout. Now, those who know me, will know that I’ve traded on my voice for, pretty-much my whole life. Why do I say this? Well, it’s extremely rare that I get voice-envy. Peter has a voice that one just has to listen to, irrespective of what is actually being said. During post-performance refreshments, I remarked as such to Peter, whom joked “Yes, I was actually doing Much Ado… but if you say it with confidence you can get away with anything!”. Rest easy people, he does know the villain’s lines most excellently. Highlight, his last scene with Polonius. Plant: tansy - I’m your enemy.

Elizabeth Howard as Gertrude

Elizabeth brought an understated calm to the role of a woman - who has after all - knowingly remained the bride-of-choice to a fratricidal, regicidal maniac. This takes a special kind of sociopath, which can be scarier than her monstrous second husband. Also, it presents a nice counterpoint to the more traditionally ‘Bad’ Claudius. Elizabeth also conveyed the affection she has as Hamlet’s mother; tugging, in contrariness, at her otherwise boundless ambition. In the play’s final moments, Elizabeth portrayed drunken giddiness to a level that left Stanislavsky behind and gave us the full Strasberg! Plant: vine - intoxication.

Ian Seddon as Horatio

Very much Hamlet’s foil in this adaptation, Ian brings an energy to the stage that immediately puts the audience at-ease. Very much an Actor’s Actor, Ian instantly transported me back to the set of the Hollow Crown’s Henry V, where I was in awe of Paul Ritter’s Pistol. Ian’s stage presence produces the same reaction in me. Delivering an early line of Marcellus, at the play’s end was a great touch. More of the same please! Plant: bluebell - constancy.

Skye Witney, Simon Bolton & Paul Sayers

To bunch Skye Witney, Simon Bolton and Paul Sayers together in a Tussie-Mussie of chrysanthemum, African marigold and southernwood (cheerfulness, vulgar minds, jokes and banter) is not to do them a disservice. This trio (of Narrators, Directors and Producers) brought in a - needs to be seen to be believed - Holby City/Casualty style, comic relief to this most tragic of tragedies. Making excellent use of a genuine (very expensive and hard-to-source, I know, I’ve tried) hospital gurney; they combined the Gravedigger, Clowns, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and more to creatively and effectively perform the abridgement of the work. Thoroughly entertaining from the start, their interpretation of the exhumation scene (you know the one) is a landmark moment.

Thank you Rooftop Theatre.

Once again… Bravo!

Simon Blood DeVay

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