Hamlet at Southwark Playhouse

This review contains spoilers, but it does not matter, because I went to see it on the last day of its run, so if you haven’t seen it, you are not going to, and you might have heard already that everybody dies anyway. 

Horatio survives. The guy who made it, albeit between the commas, into the famous line ‘there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.

What did you miss? 

You missed an unusual production of Shakespeare’s most famous play. Please note, unusual is not used here as a synonym for ‘interesting’, this ruthless one word condemnation of anything. 

You missed the shortest meaningful production of Hamlet you are likely to see. Meaningful is important, because I am vaguely aware of a past project by Reduced Shakespeare company, which squeezed 37 plays into 97 minutes, but we can probably safely agree that that was just nonsense. 

Southwark Playhouse Hamlet was 90 minutes, which was one of the reasons why I was attracted to the proposition of seeing it. Even if it were very very bad, it would be over in an hour and a half, and I could handle that.

It was not very very bad, but it could have been better.  

I did not come to it completely unprepared. In fact, I am going to come clean. I bought the tickets because a week earlier, my 17 year old daughter saw it with her school. They are ‘doing’ Hamlet as part of their English literature course, so it made sense. She gave it a raving gushing five star review, could not praise it enough, she was in love with the production, and everything and everybody in it. She also said that she would have loved to talk to me about it again after I had seen it. So I went. 

Highlights and lowlights.

All the actors are ridiculously young. So much so, that you would be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into a school production. Mercifully, it became apparent that it was not a school production as soon as Hamlet spoke. He was good. He was very good, especially when he got angry and mad, somewhere in the middle, and from then on he was pure pleasure. His to be or not to be felt a bit rushed, but then again, everything did, as there was only an hour and a half to play with. 

Laertes and Horatio were very good too. So was the actress from the troupe of players, who recited the Pyrrhus and Priam monologue. 

The ghost scenes were a little too shouty for my liking, and the light beams from the torches revealed a disturbing amount of dust particles in the air. If I were asthmatic, I would be reaching for my inhaler. 

Ophelia did not cut it for me. I also felt that her walk to the actual toilets at the venue to kill herself, which we watched on TV screens with ominous music in the background, took an unnecessary long time, especially as time was at a premium. We knew by then the only thing left for her to do was to kill herself, so the gunshot could have come quicker. 

The condensed form of the production required that big chunks of the text be removed, and this meant that the play descended into a recitation of most famous sound-bites at times.

To the manner born, frailty thy name is woman, the rest is silence, get thee to a nunnery, were all there, but it felt that without the broader context in which they are usually delivered, they lost a large part of their emotional impact and lyrical beauty.  

The three characters who disappointed  the most, were Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius, simply because of their absence. Only the young generation of characters made it into the cast. It worked well to an extent, but I did miss some deleted parts, such as exchanges between Hamlet and his mother. 

I felt Polonius, in particular, was robbed of his role. His character has a few powerful lines, and if nothing else, his brevity is the soul of wit ditty would have served as a fitting motto of the show.   

Overall, I am glad I went, it was an ‘experience’, but next time I might be more careful to part with my time and money entirely on the strength of my teenage daughter’s enthusiasm. 

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