Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Hamlet at the Cockpit Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Hamlet at the Cockpit Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Hamlet at the Cockpit Theatre
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02 Mar REVIEW: Hamlet at the Cockpit Theatre

One of Shakespeare’s most striking and best-loved tragedies, Hamlet, has had no shortage of London stagings. A story of treachery, revenge and jealousy, it’s a veritable smorgasbord for any director, letting them pull out the themes and ideas that they want their work to explore, within the confines of an amazing and iconic text.

To stand out from the crowd of Shakespeares, and even other Hamlets currently showing, a production of Hamlet has to have a talking point, be that a big-name actor, a real human skull, or presenting a play that’s been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. The marketing materials for the English Repertory Theatre’s production focus on the fact that this time, the eponymous hero is being played by a woman. Certainly intriguing, it is eye catching and does give it a sense of identity. Reading about it in advance, I hoped the decision to cast a woman would turn out to be an inspired and fascinating one, and I hoped for some interesting social commentary on gender roles or gender identity to emerge from the pages of this well-known script, rising up in front of us like Hamlet’s ubiquitousGhost. But sadly there was no trace of either.

That’s not to diminish Rachel Waring’s performance in the role; I rather like her Hamlet, moody and troubled and delivered with utter conviction. She convincingly is the livewire schoolkid that might shout at the teacher, or wreak gentle havoc in class. But that brings me on to the next problem with the production: the decision to set this version of Hamlet in a school.

No longer strutting about a royal palace, Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia and Rosencrantz have become disruptive teenagers in an old fashioned classroom, creating mischief for their teachers and – quite literally – giving them the run-around. It does make for a couple of brilliant, high-energy moments that exploit the layout of the Cockpit, and it does improve the ability of an audience to relate to the tale. But that’s quite diminished if you consider that it’s not a school scene recognisable to anyone who’s been educated in a state establishment in the last 20 years. And yet the real problem is epitomised in this note quoted directly from the programme: “Life could not be worse for Hamlet. He is late for class. His father has been murdered by his uncle and his mother has married him.”

The very notion that his lateness – or not – to class would even enter into the consciousness of someone who’s just lost their father – let alone at the hand of their uncle – is absurd. And it’s this bizarre lack of perspective that yanks the thread of the play’s seams, just to see it all disintegrate. Were it not for the desks scattered about the place, the entirety of the second act could have been set just about anywhere. The reduction of Hamlet’s situation to being, at least in part, attributable to teenage angst, completely diminishes the tale. And the outlandish bookending by teacher Horatio stood on the desk and speaking in an impenetrable (presumably Danish) accent seems to serve no purpose other than to bemuse.

For me, there are a lot of problems with this production, but there are also things it does very well. What can sometimes be a terribly long and arduous play is cut into a very watchable hour and three quarters, without losing any of the salient points. And to a certain extent I like the removal of the Ghost – having always struggled with the supernatural elements of Shakespeare, being offered an alternative is incredibly appealing. But all things considered, it’s the components of the production that make it unique, that I just don’t really like.

Dates: 16th February – 15th March 2015
Venue: The Cockpit Theatre
For tickets and information:
Image: Gary Dovell Photography

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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