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Hamlet Assessment, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, February 2022


By Ralph Goldswain

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s Hamlet might be termed “a play by Sean Holmes, primarily based on an concept by William Shakespeare” for all of the connection Holmes’s manufacturing has to Shakespeare’s textual content and the spirit of his textual content.

If accepted in that approach it’s a nice, if too prolonged, night on the theatre. It is stuffed with enjoyable and jokes, together with one from the gravedigger about COVID events in Downing Avenue.

Holmes appears to have scoured the textual content for comedian alternatives, of which there are a lot of within the unique textual content, similar to Hamlet’s goading of Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the hilarious scene with Osric. Nevertheless, unusually, he performs these scenes down – cuts a few of them and rushes by way of what he has left of them. The result’s that the scene with the ridiculous Osric – most likely essentially the most totally realised of all Shakespeare’s minor characters – is just about bypassed.

Holmes downplays all of the dramatic scenes, just like the scene in Gertrude’s room and the killing of Polonius, the scene within the graveyard the place Hamlet and Laertes struggle over the physique of Ophelia (which at that time just isn’t a physique however ashes in a crematorium urn), and, most of all, the ultimate scene. Typically, Dying lays a really gentle finger on this model of the play.

As an alternative, Holmes wrings the textual content for laughter. However even there, other than the scene with Osrick, though the gravedigger scene could be very humorous in Shakespeare’s textual content Holmes dismisses all of it and has the gravedigger, joined by a straight man, a contemporary priest smoking a cigarette, treating the viewers to a twenty-first century stand-up comedy act, devised both by Holmes or the actor, Ed Gaughan, and nothing in any respect to do with Shakespeare. Gaughan additionally entertains us all through the efficiency, singing whereas strumming on a guitar.

George Fouracres as Hamlet

George Fouracres as Hamlet, courtesy of Johan Persson

However even when Holmes’s method of utilizing the Shakespeare textual content as a jumping-off place for a brand new play had been acceptable – which it might be if properly performed – a number of it doesn’t make sense on this manufacturing. Why does Holmes swap Ophelia’s ultimate phrases for extracts from Romeo and Juliet? Why does Hamlet, in contrast to his mom and uncle, his buddies and companions, his father’s ghost, have a broad Brummie accent? Why does each character who dies must be put down a properly and emerge soaking moist? What’s the logic of the costumes? They vary from the ghost’s Roman soldier outfit, by way of Claudius’ and Gertrude’s Renaissance royal clothes, to Ophelia’s denims and shorts and Hamlet’s emo choice. You’ll be able to’t get an understanding of any of that from the dynamic of the Holmes textual content or the efficiency – you would need to ask Sean Holmes.

George Fouracres, final seen in certainly one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedian roles – Sir Andrew Aguecheeck – on the Globe, made an indelible mark with a superb efficiency in its Twelfth Night time final 12 months. He’s the consummate comedian actor and, as such, saves this manufacturing, which, with this idea, would in any other case be in peril of failure. He’s partaking, and divulges what’s there within the Shakespeare textual content – the excessive intelligence and sense of humour of the protagonist, one thing that Hamlet can’t suppress within the Shakespeare textual content, even in his darkest moments, and he entertains us all through. And he’s unfailingly humorous.

The darkness within the Shakespeare textual content just isn’t there on this manufacturing although. Not on the stage anyway. As an alternative of the profound questioning of existence that Shakespeare’s protagonist goes in for, most of which is embedded within the soliloquies, Fouracres distances himself from it, even making jokes in the course of essentially the most severe and profound musings ever written, as if not desirous to share his interior self with the viewers as Shakespeare supposed. As an alternative, he covers the partitions with graffiti – detailed outpourings – whereas we aren’t trying. We come again from the interval to search out that he’s been busy doing that. Completed actor as he’s, Fouracres is nonetheless not totally snug on this half, seeming to be going together with Holmes’s experiment considerably towards his higher judgment.

It’s a pity that Rachel Hannah Clarke, one other achieved actor, just isn’t allowed to really play the half written for Ophelia – a lot of her function has disappeared and all her “greatest bits” have been reduce out. Polly Body’s Gertrude can also be considerably curtailed however she asserts herself within the ultimate scene by being drunk. Claudius– a possible tragic protagonist – loses his menace in Irfan Shamji’s portrayal of Claudius as a fun-loving light-weight, lacking the chance of creating the “O my offence is rank/ it smells to heaven” soliloquy hit the spot. John Lightbody is a cool, youthful Polonius whose pomposity is changed with a quiet dignity that belies his underlying nastiness.

The primary query raised is – why? Why rewrite Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Or why rewrite Shakespeare’s Hamlet and name it Hamlet? Many movies, performs and novels have used a Shakespeare play as inspiration for the creator’s personal creativity and given it a unique title. And lots of of them have turn into classics. So why rewrite Hamlet and promote it as a manufacturing of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Why not a brand new play by Sean Holmes with its personal title?

It’s unimaginable to make a judgment about this manufacturing as a result of it’s onerous to know what it’s. Nevertheless, it’s enjoyable. Viewers laughter ripples all through and the requires viewers participation are irresistible. However after three hours and we aren’t even within the ultimate scene one is starting to consider mattress and questioning whether or not the tube will nonetheless be operating by the point one lastly will get out of the cramped (though lovely) theatre.

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