The more I watch Rooftop’s offerings, the more I want to see.
I was intrigued how the Bard’s longest play was going to reduce to almost half the playing time whilst still maintaining the dynamics and depth of acting to make it a success.
The intimate surroundings of the brewery is reminiscent of the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond. The audience feels open, vulnerable and ready to absorb. The challenge for the ten actors:
- 1) how to convey the complexity of emotions in the round
- 2) how to push boundaries but maintain the suspension of disbelief
- 3) How to perform one of Shakespeare’s most successful plays using ten characters
The cast moulded together like a ball of palpable, multi-coloured plasticine. Hamlet (Daniel Wilby) and the delicate, fragile Ophelia (Poppy Wilde) gave credible, heart- wrenching performances, Claudius (Peter Gillham) and Gertrude (Elizabeth Howard) wound their snakelike bodies around the script with intense lust and conflict, Polonious (Ewan Gibb) gave a fabulously entertaining performance - not unlike the bumbling eccentric Giles Brandreth. There was a wonderful rapport between himself and the lovely Laertes (Morgan Rees-Davies) whose dulcet tones sent me spiralling to another dimension. This actor delivers every time and has a very special quality.
Horatio (Ian Seddon) was very much the crowd pleaser. We felt comfortable with his confident under stated role. The narrators (Skye Witney, Paul Sayers and Simon Bolton) brought us back to reality with an uncomfortable edge. The graveyard scene was particularly amusing and provided a window of light relief.
Whilst all the above deserve their plaudits, the character who really set me on edge and filled me with repulsion was Peter Gillham as Claudius. Another reviewer has mentioned his voice and I agree with this. However it was not just the dialogue that nauseated the audience.
The abhorrent body language, the controlling hands, the grip of the hands, the veins in the neck pulsating and the menace in the eyes really made this character rotten to the core and was utterly, utterly despicable.
The technical quality was excellent. An original score, the scraping minor chords subconsciously laid the foundations for evil and tyranny to begin. Hamlet’s demons and Gertrude’s conflict were well portrayed and well executed through green apparitions and blood red tyranny.
Did this play work? It’s not for the purists, but for first timers or audiences fairly new to Shakespeare, the absence of politics and sub sub plots, the unorthodox way in which the play functioned made the story accessible, comprehensible and thoroughly enjoyable. I kept finding myself laughing which is not a usual emotion in the main whilst watching Hamlet. However my gentle laughs were applauding the directors for the twists and turns that this play took. Without spoiling it for others- one major twist, a brave twist had me gasping with surprise- yet it worked. It absolutely worked.
Different styles of acting and theatrical experience were evident. One could see in many poignant scenes that a deep rooted Method approach had been adopted however in contrast, the narrators broke the walls in true Brecht style. This was close up action, warts and all.
I love this company- the edgy two fingers up to society, those maverick, dangerous directors with their barbed wire minds and the beautifully bound cast- I can’t wait for your next offering!
Bev Jenkins GoDA: Guild of Drama Adjudicators
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