William Shakespeare
Chapterhouse Theatre Company (touring) at the Gala Theatre, Durham

Football, it was once famously said (and repeated ad nauseam ever since), is a game of two halves. Theatre, too, is a game of two halves, but, unlike football, where it's the score at the end and not at half time that counts, in theatre it's the whole thing.

If this production of Hamlet were a football match, the scoreline would go something like this: at half time Shakespeare led 5 to nil but Charterhouse pulled back one in the second half to be defeated by five goals to one.

Hamlet, even when cut, is a long play (this production came down at well after 10.30, after a 7.30 start), so why director Karen Crowe had to add three or four minutes at the beginning by having the company mime the battle in which Hamlet's father defeats Fortinbras while Gertrude gives birth to Hamlet on the other side of the stage defeats me. We are told that Hamlet's birth coincided with Fortinbras' defeat at least twice: why they had to draw pictures I do now know.

But then, I also don't know why they felt it necessary to tell us how we should feel by using more or less continuous incidental music, complete with portentous chords when something dramatic was happening. Or why the battle and ghost scenes needed to be lit in red. I'd also like to know why Rosencranz and Guildenstern were played as a couple of aging queens. And why the Players, who are clearly frequent and welcome visitors at the court of the King of Denmark, should be dressed in rags and barefooted - apart from the Player King, that is.

The first half was just so melodramatic - ponderously so, in fact - that the sense of the awful inevitability of tragedy was completely lost. It didn't appear in the second half either, but at least the performances were better and the melodrama was ditched - well, until the very end, when, in case we didn't understand that practically everyone was dead, we finished the play with the stage and assorted bodies bathed in red light.

Chapterhouse normally play in open air spaces - and, indeed, their productions are devised with this in mind - where perhaps (but I am not at all convinced of this) broader strokes are necessary than in a theatre. But still...

Not premiereship, I'm afraid. Perhaps Vauxhall Conference....

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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