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Hamlet Live

William Shakespeare
Kronborg Castle, Helsingør (Elsinore), Denmark
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In order to get a true impression of Shakespeare’s play about so much that was rotten in the state of Denmark, it helps to see events unfolding in their original location. This is splendid, towering over the surrounding landscape and approached via a bridge across a moat.

The Danes know a thing or two about tourism and they have tastefully supplemented the pleasure of wandering around the splendid structure that we know as Elsinore Castle by creating an immersive, site-specific version of the play, which is performed in English throughout the summer.

A combined team of Danish and British actors plays out short scenes at various locations, primarily in the central courtyard but also in other areas such as the atmospheric catacombs beneath the castle and the King’s chamber.

The language may not be quite what those who know the text would expect, while many characters are cut. In return, a new one, the particularly jaunty and very effusive Yorick, helps to take visitors through the play and the ups and downs of the life of the Prince of Denmark.

One problem with immersive theatre is the difficulty in being in the right place at the right time. On a random visit, your critic managed to see about 80% of the drama including a series of later highpoints. A hint here is to look at and interpret information on a blackboard located at the entrance to the courtyard.

The staging itself may be light-hearted, for example when Hamlet stages The Mousetrap using a trio of puppets to catch the bold, arrogant king, but is always imaginative and inventive, making full use of the location.

For many, the highlight of an event that takes approximately two hours from start to finish will come as Hamlet ponders whether life is worth living as, skull in hand, he soliloquises “To be or not to be” in the open-air.

Rather than strewing bodies around, which might have scared many of the younger audience members, soon afterwards, Yorick and Ophelia deliver a five-minute Hamlet, summarising events that some of those perambulating might have missed before getting on to that gory ending.

The language is a mixture of Shakespeare and something considerably more modern, while humour is always to the fore.

The actors are always enthusiastic, while the elements also play their part, conveniently providing a mixture of sunshine and (thankfully distant) thunder and lightning, although none of these can be guaranteed. Indeed, viewers of the performance later the same day might well have got extremely wet.

In addition to the play, there is an opportunity to imagine some of the stars who have delivered the immortal lines of the play rather more seriously. A display in the castle reminds us that these include such greats as Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud and, perhaps less predictably, Michael Caine.

Anyone planning a trip to Copenhagen, which is a joy in itself, would do well to make the 45-minute train journey out to Kronborg Castle, where they can enjoy a splendid Hamlet experience.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher