“Be all my sins remembered”
Sitting through English Repertory Theatre’s reconceived version of Hamlet, it struck me that the thing is reminded me of the most was an episode of Hollyoaks and I don’t mean that in terms of an outright dis, it really was where the resonance came. The courtroom of Elsinore becomes a private schoolroom in which privileged kids toy with questions of gender and sexuality and deliver overdramatic dramatics, the adult figures have to make do with paper-thin characterisations and there’s an abnormally high death-rate – maybe Shakespeare spent some time in Chester after all…
To fit this vision, Gavin Davis’ adaptation makes some rightfully bold decisions and it throws up some interesting new variations on a familiar theme. The Ghost and Guildenstern are stripped out, with Ophelia, Laertes and Rosencrantz being comparatively beefed up, meaning Hamlet discovers key details about his father’s death from notes being passed around the classroom and Nina Bright’s Ophelia is pleasingly fleshed out to become more of a true compatriot to her lover. And with Rachel Waring’s Hamlet gussied up as a boi, there’s added piquancy to the general ambivalence about their relationship.
Waring is reportedly the youngest actress to ever tackle the role and as such, brings a zesty, youthful quality to the jagged flashes of this most mercurial of personalities with a furious and at times hectic energy to much of her playing. This rushed feel is something that’s symptomatic of the production as a whole though, there’s no escaping the fact that a decent familiarity with the text is a necessity to ensure a narrative clarity that just isn’t inherent in the work here.
Claudius and Gertrude are the biggest casualties character-wise, minimised until it’s too late for them to really have an impact despite good work from Jon House as the former, and Horatio becomes a receptacle for all the lines considered important but whose characters have been cut making him a strange hodge-podge of a man. But Davis’ direction is problematic too, in the way that it mis-utilises this in-the-round space, bleeding scenes into each other with unnecessarily competing dialogue, and leeching the energy that has been building up with lengthy static passages in the second act.
So an ambitious production but one which becomes increasingly difficult even over this much shortened running time.