Hamlet

William Shakespeare

East Riding Theatre

East Riding Theatre

From 23 September 2016 to 15 October 2016

Review by Michelle Dee

There’s no time for soul searching or reflection with East Riding Theatre’s new production of Hamlet. The drama comes thick and fast in the Clive Knellor directed revisit, to Shakespeare’s original Nordic noir.

Hamlet played by Gabriel Winter is eminently watchable injecting a touch of the teen heartthrob, to the role. The fresh-faced Prince comes at a price, not so much gravely wronged son, more the troubled teen, petulant rather than murderous.

The heavily-edited text retains most if not all of the lines that have slipped into public conscious; the famed “To be or not to be” speech, becomes a paper dart which Hamlet throws from the audience. Were there paper darts in Shakespeare’s time? Likewise, the appearance of a black umbrella at Ophelia’s funeral is a little jarring.

It is not an updated version of the play, it is still set in historical Denmark, yet the giddy pace lends it the traits of a contemporary TV drama. The story has been made completely accessible; despite the dense Shakespearean language, it is incredibly easy to follow, regrettably leaving nothing to question: this is Hamlet for the Game of Thrones generation. It isn’t at all taxing on the brain, so perfect as an introduction to Hamlet and Shakespeare, but for those looking for something a little more nuanced they may be disappointed. The lack of blood was disappointing for what is a story filled with murderous intent, the violence was somehow cartoonish: simplified.

All that being said, there are some memorable moments in ERT’s telling of Hamlet, particularly Ophelia’s journey to her grave and her grief-induced slide into hysteria that precedes it, depicted with unnerving playfulness by Eva Traynor. The ghosts are good; there’s a definite sense of a time where this world and the next were not so clearly defined, and that how you travelled from one to the other was of the upmost importance. For instance, Polonius, played by Neil King, not being given the funeral fit for a man of his standing, Ophelia not ascending to heaven but sent below for offending God by taking her own life.

The set designed by Ed Ulyart consists of a castle exterior complete with turrets, the uppermost of which is briefly converted into the crow’s nest of the ship carrying Hamlet and Horatio to England. The trapdoor in the stage is a simple and effective device to allow characters to be present and yet not visible.

More than once, the whole theatre becomes the stage, with actors appearing from behind the audience, as we sat in what could only be described as a rustic and relaxed theatre space. The vaulted ceilings and exposed timbers of the East Riding Theatre certainly play their part in creating the atmosphere for this production of Hamlet. The packed audience appreciated the performance responding with hearty applause at the close.