Review of Hamlet by Diane Lyle

Ludlow’s Rooftop Theatre Company has done it again – produced a thought-provoking, innovative production of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays – Hamlet.

With just 10 cast and the running time cut by over half, the action slides seamlessly through the shortened plot with unexpected pockets of belly-laugh humour, one of which is the opening scene. A hospital bed sits centre-stage into which the young Hamlet, played so beautifully by Daniel Wilby, is helped, his fragile mental state already evident - thus providing a credible entrance for the key characters: concerned mother, played by Elizabeth Howard; the barely-contained violence of Peter Gillham’s Claudius, sweet Ophelia (Poppy Wilde) and Polonius (Ewan Gibb).

The opening humour disappears as the cause of Hamlet’s malaise emerges – mad with grief for his father and disgust with his mother’s ‘o’erhasty’ marriage to Claudius, this Hamlet is also ‘possessed’ by the spirit of his father. No ghost haunts the performance space or echoes eerily through the sound system but speaks through the troubled son. Clever, credible and adds an extra layer of interpretation.

The parent-children interactions are again brilliantly developed. Ewan’s Polonius is a perfect portrayal of an over-anxious, slightly out-of-touch but devoted father tolerated with loving mockery by Ophelia and Morgan Rees-Davies as Laertes in what is clearly a functional family. The seismic rifts in the Hamlet family are exposed with Gertrude’s plausible maternal concern and exasperation at her son’s refusal to accept her reality overlaid with brazen new-bride sexuality and Claudius’s predatory bullying.

As the action spirals towards its inevitable tragic conclusion, the audience is both mesmerised and delighted.

Mesmerised by Hamlet, his youth, his predicament – his famous soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’ is literally breath-stealing - his courage; by Ophelia’s naive innocence and utterly believable descent into her own insanity; by Horatio (played by Ian Seddon), his staunch friendship and his despair, his loneliness, as he closes the play; by Gertrude and Claudius as their relationship unravels and Claudius’ inherent evil erupts; by Laertes’ confusion when he returns from France to an alien world and his corruption by Claudius to wreak vengeance - and, always, by Polonius – one of the best I’ve seen.

Delighted by the three ‘narrators’ Skye Witney, Simon Bolton and Paul Sayers who innovatively ‘bridge’ much of the abbreviated text and provide the humour. The graveyard scene is hilarious and a welcome relief involving the audience (beware where you sit!) as Shakespeare’s players would have done back in the day.

It is without doubt a brilliant production, a brilliant adaptation – brilliantly performed by a brilliant cast of superb actors.

The only caveat ……. seeing it once may not be enough!

Diane Lyle

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