Hamlet (Guildford Shakespeare Company)
Shakespeare. Freddie Fox. Victorian Gothicky church a la Pugin. Guildford Shakespeare Company…..
Just wonderful — truly used it’s location to the max! Even got organ music during the funeral/coronation. Heady Gothic atmosphere. Also felt much slower than many recent Shakespeare dramas I’ve seen — reflecting on this I realised that the actors weren’t charging through their words as is normally done, but really speaking them, and allowing them to speak.
I was dazzled by the opening scene, utilising the church to its full potential. They walked grandly up… with a sword!!!
Treachery or romance? Hamlet is clearly disturbed as it’s all taking place over the coffin of his dead royal father.
Here the ghost is never seen, but only observed through the reactions of the character to the hauntings, such as here — with torches!
Even the pulpit was utilised as the seemingly innocent and charming looking King Claudius (Noel White) eulogises Hamlet’s deceased father and springs his intention to marry Hamlet’s mother.
But Hamlet is suspicious of his new step-father’s friendly appearance and soon in despair.
We see the pain of it and his realisation that his father has been murdered by his new step-father (and uncle)….
and really going through the motions. We don’t know if he really is being haunted by his father’s ghost, experiencing extreme grief for his lost father or in the depths of a dangerous mental breakdown. Or does he merely resent being usurped of his place in the succession to the throne? He appears altogether — only breaking into pain and despair when his new ‘father’ and mother have departed. His uncle places a comforting hand on Hamlet’s mother’s back — a sign of things to come and appropriation.
Horatio (Pepter Lunkuse) was incredibly well-played in this; a kind foil to a very emotional and young Hamlet and genuinely caring for and shocked by their friend’s demise.
Lots of fourth wall breaking here as Hamlet speaks directly to us; we are party to his thoughts and even his pain at appearing to see and talk to his.. dead father who wants revenge on his step-father, his murderer.
Modern dress was nicely used — with Ophelia’s musical talents pushed to the full (whilst being a gentle young woman) and a forceful father. Not sure what kind of vicar the dad is meant to be though — a Cardinal???
Hamlet encounters the ghost and begins to break, mentally and emotionally.
The tense and fevered moment when Hamlet comes across his step-father praying (apparently for forgiveness of his murderous guilt)and contemplates murdering him in revenge…or not… Should Hamlet obey earthy or heavenly father here? Church setting and lighting utilised to the full.
The players were pretty much cut here — but the gravediggers came into their own. I normally find them tedious, verging on annoying — they just aren’t funny! But with the use of the baptismal pool (I think) as the ‘grave’ — they and ‘to be or not to be’ came into their own. Terrific use of an ancient backdrop.
The drama grew at the end as everyone hurries to their demise. Here King Claudius didn’t seem bothered that his wife was about to drink of a poisoned chalice meant for his step-son — she’d become an inconvenience and better out of the way. The swordplay and fights could have been a bit better — you could clearly see the joins — but the imagery at the end was so moving (and so mournful) that it leaves a lasting impression. Less of Fortinbrass, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern here — more of Horatio grieving for a loved, lost friend.
@Images are author’s own from Livestream of Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet and used only to illustrate what a creative and imaginative production this was, February 2022