William Shakespeare
Galleon Theatre Company
Greenwich Playhouse

Hamlet production photo

In May 2000 the Greenwich Playhouse opened under its new name, having previously been The Prince Theatre. Co-founders of Galleon Theatre Company Alice de Sousa and Bruce Jamieson had saved the performance space from demise and celebrated with an inaugural production about the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. Eleven years on and still going strong, the company have chosen to re-visit the title, this time with a new focus and cast.

Bruce Jamieson is still at the helm as director, having directed over thirty productions for Galleon Theatre Company. Knowing the space intimately Jamieson ensures that every exit and entrance is used to its full potential and that actors always play to the three sides of the audience. As Claudius, the role he took in the 2000 production, his commanding voice signifies the new King's power and knowing that Jamieson is also the play's director further connotes his centrality and rule.

The most sought-after of all Shakespeare parts, Hamlet is played by Robin Holden. A strong performer throughout, Holden captures the very essence of this often confusing character and delivers his dialogue with a great sense of intensity behind the eyes, matching motive and emotion thoughtfully. His highly charged scenes with Elana Martin as Ophelia suggest that these are two actors with promising futures.

Set in the 1800s, this Hamlet has a Gothic flare about it, with a glorious backdrop evoking eerie woods, ruined churches and army camouflage simultaneously. However, having transported the action to the 19th Century, hardly any references are made to the period to afford the narrative new meaning. The 1800s, as production notes suggest, were a century of "scientific invention, industrial and commercial fervour, moral severity", with Gothic fiction, such as Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), proving highly popular. But where is the evidence of this in Galleon Theatre Company's Hamlet? Costumes alone cannot uphold a concept. Rooting the production in a particular year, or even decade, would help bring out the social tensions of the time and expose the historical context more successfully. The corruption of the court shares much in common with the corruption found in businesses during the industrial revolution, yet references to trade and industry are nowhere to be found.

This Hamlet runs at two hours, a marvellous feat for the company. Overall Shakespeare's words are cut well, but it does come as a surprise to forgo the battlements and open the play with Act One Scene Two. Likewise, Hamlet's "Speak the speech, I pray you" monologue to the Players is heavily trimmed and his dead father makes only one appearance rather than four. Unfortunately the streamlining also leads to Horatio, Hamlet's most trusted friend, becoming sidelined and a peripheral character.

Galleon Theatre Company's Hamlet is the first of three to be staged this season. Michael Sheen will play the title role at the Young Vic in October and in November the Barbican receives a revisionist production courtesy of the Berlin Schaubühne. Having provided us with the immortal words "The play's the thing", this season there are plenty of Hamlets on offer to enjoy.

"Hamlet" plays at the Greenwich Playhouse until 9th October 2011


Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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