I’ve seen many a production of Hamlet over the years, so it’s always a particular pleasure to see a rather good one, and Petersfield Shakespeare Company delivered exactly that with its production at the Brighton Open Air Theatre.
Brought the script’s darkness and black humour into brilliant balance
Dark and spare, with a clear conceptual point of view, Petersfield’s Hamlet hones in on the paranoia and angst of Shakespeare’s script. I admit I had hoped for an abridged version upon arrival – I’m an early bird! – but was pleasantly surprised when it became clear the company was tackling the complete script with skill. Tension was always high, smart creative choices were in abundance, and jokes were always well-played. Supporting roles shown as bright as the titular lead.
As Hamlet, Harrison Rose captured audiences’ sympathy and ire in equal measure – a difficult but necessary feat to make the role work to its best. I’ve seen enough actors tackle the cerebral existentialism Hamlet faces without embodying it physically, but Rose showcased a unique physical connection to the role that impressed me. He managed the range of Hamlet’s emotions from sullen angst to creeping madness to righteous anger impressively and authentically throughout.
Supporting Rose was a cast of ten, stepping into various roles as required. As Ophelia, Laura Peterson brought an earthy solidness to the role, a welcome contrast the typical waifish ghost. Harriet Benson made for a memorable and graceful Gertrude, Freddie Hill was a memorable grave digger, and Joy Brook’s comedic timing as Polonius made her a show-stealer. The cast in its entirety can boast a complete mastery of Shakespearian language – not once did I find myself zoning out or running out of patience, which can sometimes happen for me where the Bard is concerned (sorry!).
The production was cleverly designed and well-suited to the BOAT’s open air stage. A sleek, gritty modern concept brought the action of the play into immediate relevance, and the use of neon lights, smoke, and muted colours worked together to set a clear mood. I was particularly struck by haunting scenes, which saw Claudius, Gertrude, and a ghostly young Hamlet draped in translucent fabric that moved, eerie and cloud-like around the bodies in the wind – it sounds simple but the effect was surprisingly stunning.
Movement scenes featuring the play’s only set pieces – chairs – didn’t quite sell me, not because they weren’t well choreographed, but only because I’ve seen something similar one too many times. On the one hand it’s a functional and minimalist approach, but on the other, compared to the rest of the production, it felt borrowed and unoriginal.
Chairs aside, it was an excellent production which brought the script’s darkness and black humour into brilliant balance, and I look forward to further work from Petersfield Shakespeare Festival in future.