"High drama in St George's"
by Judy Collins on 20/08/09

Shakespeare is always a tough one to tackle, and Hamlet one of the toughest, but Lodestar manages to pull it off!

The action begins in near darkness as the ghost of Hamlet's father silently appears upstage. The eerie atmosphere is broken with an almost catwalk presentation of characters who glide around the stage spelling out their relationships with each other. This visual commentary is later repeated to show the development of the drama.

The play is set on a thrust stage that utilises the space of St George's Hall perfectly, which includes the grand chandelier into the lighting rig. The lighting itself, though quite minimal, is extremely effective. The direction is stylised and simple which makes the action easy to follow and beautiful to watch.

The acting, on the whole is solid, though special mentions should go to Ian Hayles, whose Polonius is played with a down-to-earth wit which contrasts well with Stephen Fletcher's lyrical musings of Hamlet; and Liam Tobin's wonderfully diverse characters, including the Ghost of Hamlet's father and the wickedly candid gravedigger.

There are some beautifully simple moments in the direction that rid us of the superfluous to leave just the simple story - of greed, betrayal, unrequited love and revenge. The most effective devises being the most unpretentious - the use of torches; the inclusion of the set and it's dressing by the characters to become part of their action; the human puppet show behind a huge gauze to show the players scene; Ophelia's burial with her shrouded body simply being placed in a trap on the stage.

St George's Hall is quite magnificent and there are times when we feel like time-travelling voyeurs spying on private family matters. But there are also times when it we seem to be watching an episode of Eastenders… in period costume! Although this production did manage to steer clear of melodrama for the main part, there were times when you wanted to tap a character on the shoulder to tell them "and breathe".

However, overall the production was extremely enjoyable. Rubin's decision to trim the script was, for this reviewer, a welcome and successful choice. And if there were any soap opera moments they were only born from Shakespeare's own sensational storylines that Hollyoaks and the like would be clambering for!

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