William Shakespeare
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold

Lee Haven-Jones as Hamlet Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Gertrude - Carol Royle and Hamlet - Lee Haven-Jones Credit: Catherine Asmore
Hamlet - Lee Haven-Jones Credit: Catherine Ashmore

Terry Hands is bowing out after seventeen years as Artistic Director at Clwyd Theatr Cymru and this production of Hamlet will be his swansong before working as a freelance director.

Having delivered a wide range of first-rate productions to the North Wales region, Hands apparently decided on Hamlet for his final production due to a long-standing desire to direct it and after due consultation with the theatre staff. There will be many audiences at Clwyd Theatr Cymru over the coming weeks that will be very grateful to all those involved in the decision.

The action unfolds on Mark Bailey’s intriguing monochrome set, enhanced by Hands’s clever use of lighting. Lee Haven-Jones takes the main role and delivers a clinical portrayal of the troubled Prince which seems to step up a gear once he has adopted his “antic disposition”.

Our first glimpse of Hamlet is certainly memorable as he is shrouded in grief and clothed in black, in contrast to the brilliant white outfits worn by the others in the scene as they celebrate the marriage between Hamlet’s uncle Claudius and his recently widowed mother.

In a production which Hands intends to allow the script to speak for itself, the subtle contrast between the black, mirrored set and the white, 19th century formal dress adopted by all but Hamlet and his confidantes hints at the shifting grounds of right and wrong throughout the play. This is augmented when a reversal after the interval sees Hamlet alone wearing white while the remainder of the cast have donned black.

The partnership between Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, played by Carole Royle, and the new King Claudius, Simon Dutton, is integral to the success of the production. Dutton is at once assured yet edgy while Royle presents a woman clearly torn between her new husband and concerns for her son. Roger Delves-Broughton is superb as the amiably officious Polonius, using timing to great effect to lighten some of the darker moments early in the play.

The arrival of the players offers a visually spectacular passage where the dark deeds of Claudius are depicted in a brilliantly lit scene that provides Hamlet with all the evidence he needs of his “uncle-father’s” guilt. From here, desire for revenge forms a lethal cocktail with Hamlet’s mental disintegration, be it real or faked, and Haven-Jones revels in the crackling scenes with Gertrude and Ophelia. Caryl Morgan’s Ophelia is outstanding and her delivery of the madness scene after the death of Polonius is one of many highlights of this outstanding production.

Inevitably, the corpse-strewn final scene provides a closure on the wrongs that the plot has revealed, alongside an acceptance by Daniel Llewelyn-Williams’s authoritative Laertes that Hamlet is indeed a man of honour.

Terry Hands has certainly delivered a vigorous Hamlet that enables an exceptional cast to demonstrate the current strength of Welsh theatre to which he has fully contributed over the years. The power of the ovation delivered at the end is testament not only to an impressive performance, but also to the man who has made so many productions like this possible.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings

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