Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios, review: ‘An intense, revelatory performance’

10:25 20 December 2016

Mark Arends as Hamlet. Picture: Robert Workman

Mark Arends as Hamlet. Picture: Robert Workman

© Robert Workman

Hunter strips the play down to 90 minutes and presents a brutal, uncompromising mental breakdown.

Kelly Hunter’s fascination with Hamlet goes back to 2012 when she directed an all female production at Mountview.

As we are reminded in the chronology, the current production has been on the road since August 2015, with Mark Arends joining in May as Hamlet.

Hunter writes that he “wakes us all up. I hear phrases I’ve never heard before.” That was a response shared by most of the audience at the Trafalgar Studios.

Arend takes some of theatre’s best known speeches and makes them sound fresh and new through careful, simple phrasing, intonation and extraordinary timing.

An intense, revelatory performance that takes us to some very dark places. Hunter strips the play down to 90 minutes and presents a brutal, uncompromising mental breakdown.

If only Hamlet had heeded his own advice and returned to school in Wittenberg.

Instead he obeys his mother Gertrude (initially played as drunk Mum at wedding reception by the excellent Katy Stephens) and is constantly reminded of how uncle Claudius, with maternal complicity, has seized the throne. This way lies madness and we get it in abundance.

By the end most of the protagonists have shuffled off the mortal coil.

Sadly, the final thirty minutes of this otherwise absorbing work finds itself in the world of Monty Python. Blood everywhere; groans and moans ; bodies twitching and much wailing. Francesca Zoutwelle’s Ophelia emerges on her belly from behind a sofa with the freshly stabbed Polonius (David Fielder) on her back.

At this point the whole tenor of the production moves from In the Psychiatrist’s Chair to Hamlet Horror. Arend’s performance alone is worth the ticket price but it’s a pity Hunter didn’t stick to examining Hamlet’s psyche.

A word of caution; demand a front row seat. There may be the chance of random blood splatter, but the seating in the rows further back is so cramped that movement is impossible.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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