The Factory's Hamlet

William Shakespeare
The Factory
Shakespeare's Globe
(2008)

Production graphic

I have never warmed to Hamlet: maybe I have yet to see my quintessential actor in the role. An excitement that this Factory production might solve things was enhanced by a 'word of mouth', non-advertising ethos that precludes the need for star-names (although 'stars' do appear on occasion), and includes the appropriation of a current set (here, The Merry Wives of Windsor) obviating the need for a dedicated stage.

A frenzied welcome met announcer Richard Merrick and an exuberant 'squad' of predominantly young actors - for many, their first footing on the Globe stage; wrapped up against lowering elements (and, personally, feeling slightly decadent to be here at midnight) we sang 'happy birthday', this being the first anniversary of a secret performance of Hamlet, given to a small invited audience of Facebook friends.

Undertaking various ensemble roles is nothing new (Jonathan Slinger's Duke of Orleans, Bevis, Richard II, Richard III, and Fluellen, in the RSC's Histories spring to mind); the twist here is that each actor knows numerous parts, their role on a particular night being decided by audience volunteers and the drawing of lots; innovative and exciting, albeit time-consuming.

The downside was that I could not hear the names chosen or match faces to their corresponding caricatures drawn on the accompanying flyer: had I been in my usual groundling spot, instead of enjoying a reviewer's role with seat and cushion, things might have been easier.

Hence, I only think that Ben Lambert played Hamlet, which felt like a failing on my part, but did highlight the importance (for me) of a programme, a named actor, a sense of their 'journey' with the role, and the chance to give due credit.

The audience, encouraged to bring props, did not disappoint: an array materialised - saucepans, flowers, feather dusters, a miner's hat, a banana. A large, inflatable shark proved popular, emerging on cue to play the Ghost of Hamlet's father.

Performers were given 'obstructions' per Act: Act 2 allowed only one actor on stage (asking for keen observance from others in the scene); Act 3 required those on stage to lip-synch lines delivered from the balcony (showing great shared knowledge and immaculate timing); Act 5, accompanied by a violinist, called for actors to stop speaking when he played - resuming their lines admirably, yet breaking scansion in the process.

The Factory's manifesto is laudable, encouraging spontaneity and freshness; skills in adaptation to roles, lines, set, obstructions, props; and direct audience engagement. And these are fine, fine actors: but, so too are Shakespeare's lines.

It is amusing if 'very like a whale' coincides with a piece of foam tubing that can be used to resemble a fish. But, at times, for me, it resembled an improvisation show from the '80's and veered towards self-indulgence.

In life, things that make us laugh and cry are often interchangeable. In theatre, genre is important: Hamlet is a tragedy, and this felt too much like a comedy. I didn't see 'my' Hamlet, but have felt stimulated to re-read it; perhaps, imperceptibly, The Factory has worked its magic on me, too.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler

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