May I take a brief moment at the beginning of this review to honour the memory of both Kevin Dicker and John Slocombe, the two plays being put on by the Bournemouth Shakespeare Players this year were their favourites and it is a fitting tribute indeed. Having worked with them both in the past the warmth, humility and honest love that they give to the cast and the production itself lives on in the heart of the company.
After the play’s opening night was rained off by an unfortunately timed thunderstorm, the cast of BSP’s Hamlet have clearly plucked the leftover lightning from the very air and channeled it into a truly electric performance. Shakespeare’s most famous play is no easy mantle to wear but this production dons it like a crown, Paul Nelson’s adaptation and direction shine through in every scene and the pacing, placement and work of the actors and the bard himself shine all the better for it.
They have modernised the setting and in the picturesque Christchurch Priory Garden the costumes are sleek, stylish and do not distract from the words and work itself. Utilising a great deal of floor work, the play is brought from off the stage and into a chair formed amphitheatre. The actors both figuratively and sometimes literally lay themselves at the feet of the audience and it opens up certain angles of the play and creates a sense of immersion. On the other hand the only complaint this provides is that dependent on your seat you may have certain scenes obscured by the back of one the cast.
The lead role is deftly handled by Patrick Marsden, his put upon madness is compelling to watch whilst his melancholy and morose moods prove to be equally engaging. The delivery of his lines whilst not falling completely out of metre is well measured and it allows a connection and understanding of the script that few could achieve. It’s no easy task to play such a schizophrenic part that leaps from sullen to sudden stark lunacy in a heartbeat, but Marsden has found that palpating rhythm and plays it perfectly creating a Hamlet that serves the audience as the conduit for tragedy.
Holly Allen’s Ophelia is as charming and enrapturing to the audience as she no doubt was for Hamlet. She provides a perfect foil for Hamlet and the nunnery scene is visceral and almost uncomfortably real. As she recounts the many ill’s Hamlet has wrought onto her to her father Polonius we are given a window into the fragility of her part and it is in stark contrast with the bright and happy abandon of the Ophelia who gleefully sung Hamlet’s praises to her brother Laertes only a few scenes before.
Horatia proves a true and absolute companion with a wit and warmth that shine a spotlight on Hamlet’s colder shoulder. The relationship between Laertes and his sister Ophelia is played perfectly by the two actors, they have one scene to establish it and it was all they needed. It’s a beautiful moment in the first act which feeds the rage and anguish visited upon Laertes in the second. The role of Guildernstern has been struck and condensed into a larger more relatable Rosencrantz, her relationship and perceived betrayal of Hamlet is established quickly with the friendship between the two obvious but forced in fashion, her confusion is pronounced and her sudden and unexplained exit and absence noted.
Claudius and Gertrude are cold parts and any warmth to them is hard to bring through all the pomp and circumstance, Claudius radiates a little during his prayer and Gertrude plays an honest and heartfelt mother. Polonius has some wickedly well written lines and they are dutifully delivered by Leo Smith who also puts on the mask of a cheeky and chirpy Gravedigger.
The part of the Player deserves a special mention as it is small but spellbinding, Daniel Withey enters the play like a drunken magician with the grandiose and standoffish demeanour of a born and bred thespian. In repose and in action he visibly chews the scenery and perfectly illustrates and highlights the contrast between this play and the potentially hammier Hamlet’s you may have seen in the past.
This is Shakespeare at it’s most real and the script is allowed to truly sing. It proves how powerful the work remains and how it yet can still adapt and dance to delight upon the stage. It’s an adaptation that shouldn’t be missed and if this is what the BSP can do in their 39th year we can’t wait for the 40th birthday!
You can still book tickets for this weeks run of Hamlet which unfortunately closes on Saturday 29th. Next week they will be putting on a production of Macbeth. Visit the facebook page and reserve your seat.
If this production of Hamlet has suitably whetted your appetite or if you just really missed the part of Guildernstern, you should check out the upcoming production of Rosencrantz And Guildernstern Are Dead by Arena Theatre.
Words by Matt Miles