Performing as part of the International Collegiate Theatre Festival, this fast past cut down version of Shakespeare’s classic tale of madness, death, and existential crisis shines in its look and feel, but falters considerably in realising the substance of the Bard’s great tragedy.
Peppered with a few gems, such as the gravedigger scene, that demonstrate the company’s potential, but these aren’t enough to save the rest of the performance.
Performing the play in the style of classic Hollywood Film Noir with only three actors, no props and minimal costumes, this production does not make life easy for itself from the get go, but is remarkably successful in some departments. Aesthetically the show is wonderful, perfectly capturing the mood and feel of an old time American crime thriller, moody and shadowy lighting design is complimented by a wonderfully period appropriate score that makes you think Humphrey Bogart will stride onstage at any moment. Adding to this is the innovative staging, using only three movable flats the cast seamlessly create distinct locations and visual metaphors as the slick choreography means the cast move entirely in sync. It must be said the show absolutely nails the film noir ascetic of the production, it is a shame however that they are not nearly as successful with the text itself.
Performing Shakespeare at the festival is always risky as the plays need to be pared down and made wieldy for a fringe run time. Hamlet, being one of the longer and more overstuffed tragedies, presents an even larger challenge, which unfortunately the production does not match. The decision to only use three actors and, of those three, to have two playing every character bar Hamlet, was a gamble that did not pay off. The cast’s reliance on items of costume and broad, bordering on cartoonish portals of the supporting parts, made the characters less believable and ultimately less sympathetic. Adding to this problem is the fact that these parts are often rotated between the two actors during the middle of scenes. This made it difficult to follow who was who, particularly in the final duel scene which came off as more of a confusing mess than a nail-biting battle.
Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that often times the Shakespearean text becomes too much for the actors, who lapse into merely reciting their lines with little variation rather than bringing out any meaning or emotions in them. All of this contributes to the main problem of the piece, which is that ultimately the performance never quite brings out the emotion or rich themes in the text. The characters don’t feel real and because of this the tragedy just doesn’t feel tragic.
This is a shame as the cast and crew are all clearly exceptionally talented and will, I’m sure, go on to do better productions. The show is peppered with a few gems, such as the gravedigger scene, that demonstrate the company’s potential, but these aren’t enough to save the rest of the performance.