Having already broken my resolution not to see any more productions of Hamlet, I thought I might as well give another one a try. ACS Random’s production, directed by Andrew Shepherd, turned the tale into a Victorian ghost story, and while some of the depth of the text was sacrificed, the resulting fresh take on a classic was well worth the watch.
The play began with a séance, in which Horatio (Andrew Venning) attempted, with the help of two mediums, to contact his friend Hamlet, an unusual opening leading to a flashback in which the events of the play unfolded. Cut down to around two hours, I felt as though I was watching a brand new play, as the speeches and events took on quite a different significance in the context of the Victorian setting. I was particularly impressed with the female Rosencrantz (Katy Daghorn) and Guildenstern (Marie Fortune), whose bawdy characters evoked Victorian music hall, and Ophelia (Scarlett Clifford) whose spirited exchanges with her brother and father near the beginning of the play evoked the innocent but likeable heroines of Victorian literature.
I loved the set, which evoked a ramshackle stately home, and very clever use was made of lighting, shadow, illusion and hidden windows (not to mention a spooky portrait or two). I particularly liked the Ghost (Chris Huntly-Turner), whose appearances were genuinely frightening and who really played up the “Victorian ghost story” aspect of the production. In addition, I thought that Claudius (Alexander Nash) and Polonius (Paul Easom) were particularly strong. Robert Welling got across Laertes’ grief very well, and Jack Baldwin impressed as Hamlet himself, an upright, rather uptight young man.
Altogether, a new, fresh take on Hamlet that puts a new slant on a familiar story. It might not appeal to those who have never seen Hamlet before, but if you know the play and are used to traditional interpretations, this one is well worth seeing.