The budding playwright's play
April's theatre round up

The Globe's lighter Hamlet

IMG_0253 Dominic Dromgoole's production of Hamlet has a song and dance routine as its book ends. It sets a lighter tone to what is probably one of Shakespeare's heaviest, brooding plays and it seemed fitting against the backdrop of the replica 17th-century theatre.

Shakespeare would, as we know, have been writing for a myriad of people, from those poorly educated, cash-strapped groundlings standing around the stage to the gentry up in their elaborately painted boxes and modern productions sometimes forget this element of his work.

Gregory Doran's David Tennant-led Hamlet for the RSC three years ago teased out some of the more humourous elements of the play but Dromgoole goes one step further stopping just short of directing the actors to deliver lines with a wink and a nudge.

He has chosen a young actor, 23-year old Joshua McGuire to play Hamlet who brings a youthful energy almost to level of bratish arrogance. And the pace is quick, not quite 1603 quick but there has certainly been some pruning here and there.

244932_1 It also helps that the the cast is tiny - just eight actors with only the lead playing just one character. The actors often stay on stage between scenes sometimes whipping away props or performing costume changes before perching quietly on a bench so that scenes slide seamlessly into each other at a breathless pace.

It calls for some inventiveness particularly during the play within the play where Simon Armstrong and Amanda Hadingue who play Claudius and Gertrude double up for player King and Queen. It is cleverly done so that you don't even notice that the two people for whom the play is being performed aren't even watching it.

The stage is also very simply dressed; this is a no frills, as Shakespeare would have had it done it production where the audience is allowed to use its imagination. McGuire, for example, won't be putting his back out dragging Polonius' dead body around the stage, a cloak is simply draped over actor John Bett - if you can't see him, he isn't there.

Certainly watching this is an experience unlike any you'd get in a conventional theatre and it is great to see a production that has an edge of authenticity that is appropriate to the venue.

But there is a downside. This feels a little like Hamlet-light. The depth is lost in the speed, frivolity and animated delivery that seem to come with the surroundings. There isn't enough light and shade in the performances and while I still think it makes sense that Hamlet is a young 20-year old, I have to agree with a comment that @3rdspearcarrier made in a tweet, that McGuire is more 'acting it rather than living it '. As a result he engaged but failed to move.

It's getting four stars from me for experience.


I got this one weeks ago - Joshua McGuire is in the forthcoming BBC series The Hour in which our Mr W is also appearing. In this Independent article it mentions how he asked Ben, while they were working together, if he should play Hamlet. You can read his answer in the article. Perhaps I should suggest Mr W goes to the V&A archive for a reminder.