Hamlet and Ophelia

This ambitious re-imagining of Hamlet asks the audience to vote on the gender of both Hamlet and Claudius, and subsequently shuffles the genders of Ophelia and Gertrude accordingly. This intriguing concept sadly had little impact on the play – an abridged Hamlet in the original Shakespearean language. The fact that Hamlet was a woman in this performance had no tangible impact on her relationship with the other characters, who were all portrayed as if androgynous. The genderbending served only to hamper the production, causing confusions with the text, which compromised suspension of disbelief. At one point, Gertrude accidentally referred to Hamlet as her ‘son’, whilst the unintentional comedy caused by Lady Hamlet shouting ‘get thee to a nunnery’ at the male Ophelia became excruciating to watch by its fifth repetition.

With its exciting premise and remarkable tech, this production has huge potential, but poor directorial decisions and weak acting prevent it from being either enjoyable or moving.

Just as gender holds little weight in this production, Hamlet and Ophelia is stripped of Hamlet’s politics, location, and time period. We’re left with the bare bones of a character’s struggle with familial responsibility and his despair over the human condition. However, the potential such reduction provides for raw and emotional theatre is lost due to poor acting. Effie Sutcliffe’s Hamlet spoke soliloquies with little feeling or variation of intonation, undermining the profundity of some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful lines. The whole play lacks the weight which the words demand: tragic events were handled by most of the actors as lightly as Lady Hamlet held Yorrick’s skull, lacking any of the existential weight it should carry. The only character portrayed with a tangible humanity was Alex Niko-Katz’s Ophelia. His portrayal of the descent into madness was done with a conviction and intensity of emotion which far surpassed that of any other performance.

The overall lack of energy and feeling in the production cannot be blamed entirely on its dubious acting. The director’s decision to endow Hamlet with greater violent agency destroys the character’s nuance and humanity, rendering the play’s ending void of catharsis. A controversial adaptation should bring out some latent potential from its original, but this production’s ambition represses what the original play has to offer.

In high contrast with the production’s lackluster character development, the sound and lighting is stunning. The soundscape in particular should be praised for its ingenuity, as Reggie Chelsom and Joni Lev have created a background for what could have been a highly atmospheric and eerie production. This otherwise flat and static play also contains some utterly breath-taking tableaux. The realisation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father is particularly beautiful. With its exciting premise and remarkable tech, this production has huge potential, but poor directorial decisions and weak acting prevent it from being either enjoyable or moving.

Reviews by Megan Dalton

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The Blurb

The Players of Elsinore have a story to tell. It is the greatest tragedy of all but is yet to be cast. A high energy new adaptation using contemporary multimedia theatre. Melding live music, stunning visual effects and breathtaking physical ensemble work with the simple beauty of Shakespeare's language, they place the destinies of these ill-fated characters in the hands of the audience. Before the players string their first chord or hum their first note the genders of the characters need to be decided. What story do you want them to tell?