Bristol University Spotlight
Greenside @ Riddles Court
Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is not simply the tragedy of one man. It also details the terrible pressures on women and the way such social abuse drives Ophelia to her death. But much of that aspect of the play, like the very existence of women, is often invisible to those watching.
The Bristol University Spotlights play Ophelia shifts the point of view to the young woman on the receiving end of the cruel society. There is a touch of expressionism in the way it is pitched.
The show opens with three women scantily dressed, because of course what they wear will be determined by the men in control. They discuss her options, her choices, and her feelings. Two of the women (performed by Ci Ci Hughes and Anjali Patel-Ramcharran) are a chorus and seem, like Ophelia (Lily Walker), to be constantly nervous as if on the edge of something uncomfortable.
We meet her brother Laertes (Hen Ryan), a lad who likes his drugs, his time at the pub and messing with “fit girls”, though we later hear from his dad that he sometimes causes problems with his “funny business with girls”. We suspect he might be getting them pregnant, and perhaps sexually assaulting them.
Such stuff is not much of a bother for her dad, Polonius (Albie Marber), who is certain that, despite his son leading a life of privileged pleasure, Laertes will become a successful international businessman.
Ophelia is not easy in this modern world. At a club, she stands barely rocking to the dance rhythms and preferring to be elsewhere. Then she meets Hamlet (Luca Cooke). He seems gentle and even sensitive. We can see they genuinely care for each other and she relaxes for a time.
All the same, she has reservations. Asked by her chorus if she ever thinks about sex, she admits to dreams of being naked with Hamlet, “but that he can't see me”. Sometimes she wishes she could just live alone and imagines “murdering them all and going to live in a forest”.
Stories she hears from Laertes and others speak of Hamlet’s mother having an affair with his uncle. These stories intensify Hamlet’s disturbance when his father is killed. He refers to his mum as “a bitch” and tells Ophelia she disappoints him. Soon, we hear he has killed her dad.
We know the direction of travel in this impressive, well-performed production, but it doesn't stop us from wanting it to end differently than the Shakespeare version.
This tightly written, riveting, expressionist glimpse of one of the tragedies in life that are so often invisible is well worth seeing. Let's change the way the world treats women.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna