Hamlet @ Riverside Studios

After an extremely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe with Titus Andronicus, Hiraeth Artistic Productions have taken on Shakespeare’s Hamlet with equal enthusiasm. Director Zoé Ford has once again embedded Shakespeare within a modern setting after Titus Andronicus was set in 1980s Britain, and this time we watch Hamlet from within the confines of a Her Majesty’s Prison in Liverpool.

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I was initially sceptical as to how successful the transition from traditional to modern would be, and was almost frightened to listen to the words “to be or not to be” spoken in a Liverpudlian accent. However, whilst the accents were initially distracting I soon grew used to them, helped by the regular outbursts of non-Shakespearean colloquialisms which had the audience in fits of laughter.

The cast were a delight to watch with their energetic physicality. Not once did the shuffling, rough inmates drop their defensive body language or territorial stances. The way in which they spoke presented Shakespeare’s words in a new light, one embedded in modern meaning. At times it often felt like watching a completely different play, a truly accomplished feat when you consider the sheer amount of Hamlet productions there have been. The play was fast-paced and easy to understand. As a whole the cast worked together beautifully, though this proved to be problematic as there didn’t seem to be any actors who stood out individually.

Cast as the lead role, Adam Lawrence portrayed the fiery yet reflective Hamlet, and did so with immense passion. He gave an energetic performance but, somehow, it didn’t strike me as true. There was a lack of connection during his soliloquies which left me unable to empathise with his character. He boldly addressed the audience with glaring eye contact that often felt as though he was gazing into your soul. However, his speeches seemed over-rehearsed. The words he spoke were fluid but not genuine. The audience around me seemed to grow increasingly fidgety each time another of his soliloquies began. The same can be said for Jessica White’s subtle portrayal of Ophelia. The sweet, shy nature of Ophelia came across effectively but her dissent into madness was lacking… well, the madness. There was nothing wrong with either Lawrence’s or White’s performances, but there wasn’t anything truly memorable about them either.

The technical side of the show was brilliant. Lighting and sound were used in small amounts making them that much more effective. The scene in which Hamlet meets the ghost of his father was achieved through simplistic effects such as the other cast members flicking lighters on and off, which proved to be staggeringly effective. The first half built effectively in tension, but the second half proved to be very anticlimactic. The actor’s use of stage combat was highly believable and accomplished, but having the final confrontation take place in a boxing ring trivialised the subject matter. Where all other elements of the modernised setting worked, this is where I think the production fell down. I was left feeling deflated by the end. All in all Hiraeth gave it a valiant effort and some of the ideas were brilliant, but these simply weren’t enough to carry the whole show. 3/5

Review written by Laura Walton.

Hamlet is currently showing at The Riverside Studios until Sunday 22 June. For more information on the production, visit here…

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