It wouldn’t be the Edinburgh Fringe without multiple adaptations of Hamlet all vying to make their mark, but this production by the English Repertory Theatre, directed and adapted by Gavin Davis, is certainly one of the most unusual. With a cast of only eight and a runtime of one hour and twenty minutes, this clever adaptation is fast paced and furious, eschewing Hamlet’s usual procrastination and uncertainty in order to, as Hamlet might put it, ‘pluck the heart out of my mystery’, focussing on the fundamentals of the play in its violence and revenge. Shakespeare purists beware; as the show’s tagline proclaims, ‘There is no ghost. There is no equivocation. Only revenge.’

Davis’ production is bold, innovative and energetic; though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t.

Not only is this minimal cast and breakneck run-time a change from the norm, with some unexpected cuts made and some surprising scenes unabridged, but Rachel Waring’s portrayal of Hamlet is also notable, as she is the youngest woman to ever play the role. This being said, I would note Waring’s Hamlet more for her portrayal than her gender, with her youthful appearance and aggressive glee a stark contrast to the expected melancholy and passivity of previous portrayals of the Prince of Denmark. Although this may be due to the condensed nature of the adaptation and its determined focus on Hamlet’s revenge, I feel that Waring’s was a fresh and exciting take on such a familiar character, whether in Hamlet’s apparent delight in killing Polonius, or in his evident disdain with the authority figures who surround him.

Of all of these figures it was Andrew Cullum’s Polonius who stood out the most. Cullum brilliantly conveyed the humour of the character while at the same time making him much more than someone to laugh at, in his jaded conspiring with Claudius. Indeed, although I feel Cullum’s portrayal stood out, I could find no weak link in the cast. Other noteworthy performances came from Nina Bright as Ophelia, more rebellious than in other adaptations and with an air of naive adolescence, and Daniel Arbon as the calm and collected Horatio. Peter Rae’s Claudius, meanwhile, simmered with quiet intensity until he exploded with fury and fear in his confessional soliloquy, literally tearing the set apart; a fantastic re-imaging of the chapel scene.

Speaking of which, the set itself, and, indeed, the concept of the production, is one of its most daring and exciting elements. Elsinore is re-imagined as a privileged boarding school, with the characters as headmaster, teachers and pupils. This leads to some clever moments, such as a biology classroom skeleton making a brief appearance as Yorick, or Hamlet’s madness being explained by Polonius through use of an equation. The Players’ scenes being performed as a Drama class was a particular highlight, with the characters enacted by Laertes, Ophelia and Polonius unknowingly foreshadowing their own ends. The actual set was minimal but effective, made up of chairs and tables that were moved by the cast throughout, with a large blackboard at the rear further establishing the setting. This leant itself to seamless scene changes, ensuring attention remained squarely on the story and aiding the adaptation’s pace and intensity.

Although this production may be confusing to first time viewers, with many characters condensed or cut, some soliloquies made into performances rather than spoken alone and the plot stripped back to its bare bones, it is worth watching in order to see such a new look at a familiar text. Davis’ production is bold, innovative and energetic; though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t.

Reviews by Catriona Scott

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The Blurb

There is no Ghost. There is no Equivocation. Only Revenge. Hamlet isn't happy. A letter from his dead father explains that Uncle Claudius bumped him off and to rub salt into the wound he's married Hamlet's Mum Gertrude. This injustice will not stand as the murderous teenager sets out on a roaring rampage of revenge. Hot-footing it from their hugely acclaimed London and Oxford tour of Hamlet, English Repertory Theatre bring their 80 minute action packed extravaganza starring a woman as Hamlet to the festival this year. ‘Waring's Hamlet is more punk-rock-f***-you than reserved regal dignity’ (LondonCityNights.com).

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