The Faction’s annual rep seasons at the New Diorama have gone from strength to strength, winning increasing critical and commercial acclaim, and so in the relatively dry spell of early January openings, they are a welcome highlight. Their 2014 season opens with a fresh take on Shakespeare’s perennial classic Hamlet, directed by Mark Leipacher in an adaptation that takes its time to find its feet and its oeuvre but once it does, it exemplifies much of the best of the Faction’s work, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Jonny McPherson.
Early on, the most arresting feature of this production is the ingenious use of a digital Simon Russell Beale to play the ghost. Leipacher comes up with a novel method of displaying Martin Dewar’s projection work, the ensemble making it somehow float in the air but for all its resourcefulness, it never feels truly integrated into the show, a distance is forced between reality and artifice which undermines the emotional current that ought to pull so strongly. And generally, the first half feels slow to start, competently played to be sure but not quite essential.
Fortunately after the interval, much more of the trademark ensemble work that marks The Faction out is in evidence. The projection work is finally utilised to another purpose in a vivid depiction of Ophelia’s final scene, the sea voyage is evocatively done and the gravediggers have a wonderfully mordant sense of humour and a fine array of skulls to dig from the ground. Props are used sparingly but inventively and the ensemble is clothed in contemporary dress, something reflected in the urgently modern way in which the verse is spoken.
Cary Crankson traces a most powerful journey for his Laertes, from bumbling embarrassment as he tries to offer brotherly advice to Ophelia to a determined strength in the face of his father’s slaughter; Derval Mellett’s Ophelia is achingly sensitive, completely unsuited to the rough company she is forced to keep; and Lachlan McCall makes a steady ever-faithful Horatio. But the show rightly belongs to McPherson as a stridently present-day Hamlet, stepping off the pages of Hello or Tatler with a forcefully substantial and utterly convincing sense of personality – bracing with his scabrous wit, compelling in the tight focus soliloquies, heartbreaking in the viciousness of his moodswings.
So a strong start for The Faction’s 2014 season and leaving me intrigued and interested in the forthcoming new play Thebes (after Sophocles and Aeschylus) and the revival of their take on Schiller’s The Robbers. Take a chance and visit a little hidden gem of a theatre in the New Diorama, somewhere that ought to be much better known than it currently is.