"earnest exploration of Hamlet's troubles"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 05/02/16

Hamlet at the Rose Theatre, the Bankside playhouse built in the 1580s by Philip Henslowe, where Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson and Kyd were staged until the early 17th century.

When the sweet prince last trod these boards, just three years ago, we were assured that Hamlet was staged here in 1594. Whether that's true or not, there is a definite sense of historical continuity here, even in this radical re-working of Shakespeare's longest drama.

“This bodes some strange eruption in our state,” warns Horatio, the first words spoken after an ominous soundscape. This is a wilfully disjointed, oneiric vision of Hamlet's world - “In that sleep of death, what dreams may come,” he muses, in his big soliloquy.

Chris Clynes is the black-clad Prince; he speaks the speeches with clarity, and occasional passion - “my mind's eye” - but never seems to have much mirth to lose; we're too used to lighter, more jocular Hamlets, perhaps. Messing with his mind in this claustrophobic space are Suzanne Marie's hysteric Ophelia, Louise Templeton's unfeeling Gertrude, and Nigel Fyfe's Claudius – an imposing presence, though not especially regal. Ross McNamara's Laertes, great-coat and rifle, brings a controlled passion to his role, and Luke Jasztal makes an engaging Horatio, especially in his closing speech, where he borrows some of Fortinbras's valediction.
Dermot Dolan's Polonius is dressed like a comic, and bears a banjo, but is singularly unamusing.
Yorick's skull makes an early, unlooked-for appearance – the Gravedigger a victim of the cuts – and returns as Ophelia's remembrances. Much of the poetry, and some of the soliloquies, are lost in this nightmare world.
The echoing excavation area is used for the ghost-watchers and much more – Hamlet's return, for instance – and there are some telling visual moments, like Ophelia's funeral procession. And Hamlet's little marionettes for the Murder of Gonzago.

The playlist is nothing if not eclectic: Goodnight Sweetheart, Mad About the Boy, Send in the Clowns, Leonard Cohen, Lonely Goatherd [for the Mousetrap], Lili Marlene [for Ophelia and Laertes sharing a bag of chips].

Director Diana Vucane's 90-minute tragedy seeks to see the play afresh through Hamlet's eyes, “focusing on the perspective of a disturbed mind, thus defying the reality-based structure of time and space, recognizing solely the inconceivable logic of a dream.” It comes across, though, as an earnest but unedifying student concept, offering only occasional insights into Shakespeare's play or Hamlet's troubled mind.

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