Review: Hamlet, Southwark Playhouse: Slimmed down version has lost context and depth
This slimmed-down production of Hamlet by Lazarus Theatre Company at the Southwark Playhouse clocks in at just 95 minutes. It focuses primarily on the younger characters - Hamlet, Horatio, Laertes, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
The story is framed as a sort of therapy session, there is a circle of chairs, and a voice over a tannoy proclaims it is a 'safe space'. The tannoy is a device used for the 'adults' communicating throughout the play - on the few occasions they feature.
I'm definitely not a Shakespeare purist, I like the idea of trimmed-down Shakespeare. There are chunks of his plays that were appropriate for the time they were written that can be easily cut for modern audiences without impact on the story.
Too many cuts
But too much has been removed in this production. If you aren't familiar with the story, I'm not sure you'd get much from it.
It's a play I've seen plenty of times (and studied), so I could easily fill in the gaps. What was lost for me was the context, the layers and the nuance.
If you never see Hamlet (Michael Hawkey) interacting with Claudius and Gertrude or see the adults plotting and manipulating, you lose part of what is driving him and what he is up against. You miss the politics of family and succession.
Making sense of the story
Similarly, if you don't see Laertes (Sam Morris) and Ophelia (Lexine Lee) with their father, Polonius, when Hamlet murders him, it is more difficult to understand Ophelia's grief/madness and Laertes's anger. In fact, if you don't ever see Polonius, it makes mention of his murder a bit 'so-what'.
There is a lack of emotional range in these one-sided relationships. What you are left with is a Hamlet who is angry and comes off as arrogant.
'To be or not to be' is delivered like a hastily rehearsed speech to the therapy group rather than as the thoughts of someone conflicted with grief, fear and anger.
There were elements of the production which were inventive and well done. I like the idea of the young characters having a safe space to speak. And the chorus-style delivery of the ghost's voice had an otherworldly feel - almost extraterrestrial.
The slo-mo fight between Laertes and Hamlet was also effective, a sort of slow dance to death. (Although without the context of the poisoned blade.)
However, Hamlet is a play that is usually moving and tragic, and this production didn't feel either. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Hamlet, Southwark Playhouse
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ricky Dukes
Running time 95 minutes without an interval.
Booking until 4 February; for more information and to buy tickets, head to Southwark Playhouse's website
The Art of Illusion, Hampstead Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ /booking until 27 January.
A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half, booking until 4 February.
Orlando, Garrick Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 25 February
Othello, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 21 January