When deciding on a show to bring to the Fringe, you have two main choices: one, a piece of new writing - exciting and impactful but harder to market - or two, a take on a classic - easier to get an audience but potentially harder to put your own voice into. Each is equally valid but it’s option two that Blunt Pyramid Theatre have opted for with their version of
Fast pace is often an asset but only if it’s not at the expense of content
As the text-speak title suggests, it’s a stripped-down, streamlined rendition, trimming Stoppard’s roughly-two-hours down to just under 50 minutes, often with little more on stage than a couple of suitcases for set. This places a lot more emphasis on the cast but they are, thankfully, up to the task. Paul Burton is a wonderfully lugubrious Rosencrantz whilst Rachel Skyer’s Guildenstern is nicely sharp and tightly-wound. This change from the usual brothers-in-arms setup to a cross-gender pairing also creates an interesting dynamic in the relationship between the two central characters and lends an extra dimension to Guildenstern’s efforts to stamp her authority on every situation. Add to these a Russell Brand-like turn by John Slade as The Player and a sweetly sympathetic Alfred, played by Filius Mihail-Canakis, and the performances make up for any starkness in the production.
Unfortunately, the production’s energy does come at a cost. Fast pace is often an asset but only if it’s not at the expense of content and it seems like this is the case here. The original text meanders a lot, certainly, but the vast swathes of time spent in empty Beckettish bickering and philosophising are arguably the whole point of the play. With this adaptation, the bare bones of the plot are there but, without a working knowledge of the play in its original form and a synopsis of Hamlet, the story can sometimes lose coherence and cease making sense. The speed of the has other considerations as well, for example Tom Fyans does well in his dual role as Hamlet and Claudius but his appearance as Claudius mere moments before his entrance as Hamlet creates the absurd impression of a man simply swapping hats backstage.
There are a few more highlights, such as the use of a silent film parody to showcase Hamlet’s play to Claudius being one. Ultimately this feels like a rushed, though workmanlike, production. Blunt Pyramid are, however, an engaging group of performers. I look forward to seeing what they do next.