“One may smile and smile and be a villain”
It was with a little hesitation that I went to another Hamlet so soon after the extraordinary (and criminally under-rated) efforts of Maxine Peake and co but work circumstances conspired to land me in Glasgow (city of my alma mater) and so I made my first trip to the Citizens Theatre. And though Dominic Hill’s creative vision has its own unique stamp, it was interesting to note the parallels that emerged in these two re-envisionings of Shakespeare’s work.
The personal rather than the political was foregrounded (it’s been a rough year for budding Fortinbrases) as the sphere of the play became a domestic one once again and I have to say I love Hamlet as a family drama. The spin on the relationships possess a real power when the scope of the play is thus reduced and their dynamics gain in intensity. Pushing it as far as they do here in Glasgow, one could even argue that the play is transformed into an ensemble drama.
Hill’s Hamlet plays out in the Glasgow gangland of the Cold War era – the men are real men, the women there to look pretty and everyone loves a drink. Peter Guinness’ Claudius is a suave capo, Roberta Taylor’s Gertrude’s an alcoholic clinging bitterly on, Cliff Burnett’s vivid Polonius is (probably) abusing Meghan Tyler’s punkish Ophelia, and Adam Best’s Laertes thrashes things out over a punchbag.
In the midst of all this, it is little surprise that Brian Ferguson’s prince initially seems weak and reserved, this version of Elsinore is no place for a man with feelings. But the extent to which he adapts to the matter at hand suggests that the apple has no’ fallen far from the tree as any innate goodness becomes overwhelmed by the prevailing testosterone-fuelled violence that permeates the air – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hamlet this nasty and I think I like it.
The use of live music, composer Nikola Kodjabashia’s work being performed onstage by the cast, is brilliantly done, the brooding darkness of the atmosphere never in any doubt and its brutal heaviness a clear sign as to why people have been driven to drink, or murder, or both. So a brilliantly different Hamlet from the Royal Exchange’s but no less exciting, and a great belated introduction to this theatre for me.