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Brighton Year-Round 2022

Low Down

Directed and Produced by Joanna Rosenfeld, Assisted by Benjamin Prendergast, Supported by and Costumes provided by Gladrags Community Costume Resource. Set pieces provided by IC Theatre Brighton and Duncan Henderson

Music arranged by Alissandra Henderson and Joanna Rosenfeld and performed by Alissandra Henderson.

Final performance of OFS in 2022, next season may be earlier than we think.


Given actors hold scripts, that great One Fell Swoop Project Unlocked publicity prop – fencing masks to guess the play – had to be dropped. Clearly though it’s Hamlet unmasked.

Today’s director Joanna Rosenfeld developed with Conor Baum – who originated OFS in lockdown zoom – the project of performing all Shakespeare’s plays over several seasons: 15th of 40 texts or (do I dare this peach, yep: if you include Sir Thomas More because of 147 lines)… 41.

Scripts in hand, actors who work at the Globe, hail from the RSC and Brighton, have from Thursday night to Saturday to scan lines from a Shakespeare they’ve not been told about, do one rehearsal, then… unlocked. It’s a bit like Read Not Dead at the Globe: but edgier. Here fresh invention’s not dry, sticks like stage blood; Shakespeare’s still revising last time we looked (different Hamlets appeared even in his lifetime), somewhere beyond the trees. Cut.

As this third season closes, OFS look to an ambitious future, continuing – we pray – in their new home of St Nicholas Rest in Dyke Road. It’s the most exciting Shakespeare project in the south east, so keep up with OFS Facebook.

How manage Shakespeare’s longest – 30,000 words –  in three hours with a half-hour break? Slicing soliloquies, shaving the ending, things we associate with the Wanamaker Globe’s recent Hamlet with George Fouracres, and gender fluidity too. Of course being OFS, that colossus role gets the triple pillar treatment, transformed into a trumpet’s foil of three actors.

Rosanna Bini’s first out: moody, introverted, distracted with grief and like all Hamlets here, black-clad – sartorial’s roughly contemporary with a nod to the 1930s.

Foil to this is underused Richard Waring in fine voice in his first role as Francisco of the watch, challenging his replacement Seerché Deveraux’s Marcellus, joined by Natasha Kafka’s equally anxious Barnardo and Conor Baum’s Horatio.

Baum inhabits this role like no other I’ve seen. His rationale – a constant looking-out for his friend Hamlet above all, but others too, especially scenes where he’s not written in – is palpable. It’s a good choice to have him convey Eden Wolf-Naughton’s Ophelia from court, in her distraction, and to hand a flute to Jules Craig’s Rosencrantz in the famous taunting by Hamlet.

There’s a watchfulness, a conversion from skirling uni sceptic to amazement as Ross Gurney-Randall’s Ghost actually walks above battlements, castellated as they are, of the funeral ground. It’s a mesmerizing place to perform this work, where below gravestones serve pomp, rest, indeed gravedigging.

Gurney-Randall’s so set-up he has only to gesture or bellow ‘swear’ to thrill us with his Ghost: ideal casting. He’s less knitted frown though talking with Bini than rationally furious, aloof in plucking on Bini to revenge. It’s a choice Rosenfeld’s made: this Denmark’s a rational place: there’s no madness, even north-north west, but inhabiting parallel, valid worlds even distrait.

This obtains in a reading of the consummate Duncan Henderson’s Claudius. It’s a Claudius studied in reticence. There’s high-status-playing, but this king is maddeningly unaware of present danger or self-reflection: like current politicians Henderson’s own The Polished Scar stigmatises.

This obtains even when Kirsty Geddes’ Laertes blazes in and Henderson remains imperturbable. This frames an oblivious Claudius, though doesn’t explain his murder plots. The effect’s a maddening calm  Laertes can’t break, which can sink the energy. Henderson grasps Kearne’s Gertrude like a prize, wheeling her off and on. We certainly believe his thoughts never to heaven go.

Bini’s Hamlet is a prince in pieces: bar the ‘swear’ scene this is a Hamlet yet to mettle and decide. Soliloquies are cut, one transposed to the next Hamlet, so each of the three bears distinct identity. Bini’s the student prince in a sulk and mourning, wide of purpose, taking Acts One and Two. It’s Bini though who’s shockingly violent to Eden Wolf-Naughton’s Ophelia, unleashing a Hamlet the next actor takes up.

Rachel Mullock’s Act Three blaze is Hamlet of high tragedy, snatching Act Two’s ‘oh that this too, too solid flesh’, running with it to a rationale of swerve and sneer, pumping hesitation and wild stabs in the arras. Stung by inaction, making wrong choices (failing to stab Claudius at prayer, then slicing off Polonius by mistake) but also setting the play-within-a-play to ‘catch the conscience of the king.’

Gurney-Randall’s Prologue and Player King seems again ideally cast, though surprisingly it’s a quieter roar today, nudged by Deveraux’ tellingly expressive Player Queen. Much dialogue between Hamlet and Players is cut; perhaps that fuels the Players with less build to blazon out.

Mullock’s high lyric force is perfect revenger’s tragedy, epitome of its genre, on point with words, fierily active. Her interactions, partly with Baum but also with Deborah Kearne’s angsty, fretful Gertrude abuts Gurney-Randall’s startling admonition that he’s reminding Hamlet of ‘your almost blunted purpose’ when he’s just killed Polonius mistaking him for Claudius.

Kearne and Mullock here play it relatively straight, where Gertrude traditionally doesn’t see the Ghost – whereas in the 2017 Almeida’s production and others recently, she does, against her own words. There’s no hint either of oedipal Hamlet, but very much of Kearne’s tearful, traumatized Gertrude and a less mocking Hamlet in their admonition to dead Polonius (‘this senator now is most silent and grave/who in life was a foolish prating knave’). Kearne’s elegant, indued with foreboding.

Mullock’s only given the more sardonic ‘country maters’ relation to Wolf-Naughton’s Ophelia, thus blades Hamlet’s mind to plot. To Nimmy March’s   Polonius, many of whose lines are cut, neither Bini nor Mullock can taunt much outside a rapier’s thrust.

In her remaining lines, March never over-eggs for laughs: projecting a dignified, black-clad (‘not gaudy’ then), less traditionally fussy Polonius – a redemptive trend recently which March sustains.

Mullock plays sardonically too with Craig’s Rosencrantz and Kafka’s Guildenstern, Baum attending. The hapless courtiers’ double-act comically relieves the first three acts: whenever they arrive, lead off the wrong way, crash into each other like Ant and Dec. Craig’s kooky brilliance here feeds off Kafka’s clownish Guildenstern as they twitter bafflement, dissimulation, channel a double-act beyond Shakespeare or Stoppard. If the Prince can’t play the fool, this duo almost steals the show.

Wolf-Naughton’s Ophelia follows Rosenfeld’s rational Denmark. There’s a delicious speech by the Danish consort of James III – played by Danish Sofie Grabol of The Killings – in Rhona Munro’s James Plays at the National in 2014. ‘I’m a reasonable woman from a reasonable country’ which garnered whoops of appreciation. That’s what we get here throughout and it’s valid.

Wolf-Naughton’s admirably clear-voiced, speaks downstage which doesn’t allow her to interact with others, sings ‘Stormy Weather’ attractively – accompanied hauntingly offstage by arranger Alissandra Henderson’s violin. No problem we’ve heard this song before at OFS; it doesn’t take us further into Ophelia’s keening melodious lays to drown herself. Brutally used by Bini’s iteration of Hamlet, there’s a line of grief to follow here, emotion to raise.

Shakespeare’s song-snatches are telling. One recalls Ruth Negga off her trolley blazing a supermarket one at the National in 2010. The late Natasha Richardson memorably pelvic-thrusted ‘by cock they are to blame’ at the Young Vic in 1985. Singing without a text is necessary, but deeper planning with fresh talent desirable. Wolf-Naughton’s undoubted promise needs nurturing; she feels a little out of place, literally, in moving away from other actors.

Lexi Pickett’s Hamlet is unbound: wit and timing point to the fully-realized prince as she relates how they’ve escaped murder and ship, raising a chiaroscuro of humour and a glint of shadiness: not the Hamlet who grows up dead as Richard Eyre suggested (dispatching erstwhile friends); but who can overbear Baum’s Horatio based on ferocious experience. This last Hamlet will ravel as many relationships in talk as cuts allow.

Pickett’s superbly chameleon-like and so unpredictable you can’t recognize her from week to week. She moves Hamlet from initial dispatch and return to Horatio, through grave scene and court confrontation, to the foil. Logan Kade’s oleaginous Osric gadflies in front of Pickett and Baum, though with three tiny roles he might have been stretched more.

Geddes, full of admonitions and receiver of them in Act One, truly comes into her own in a great performance from Act Four on. Energised with tragic force her pulsating urgency animates every scene she’s in. If she receives nothing back, she bounces off, and with the last Hamlet feeds those fires to tragedy.

Geddes may ‘forgive’ but more ‘stands aloof’ in pre-combat parley, though realises ‘the king’s to blame’ with spluttering force. She makes up for the fact that Laertes’ return, accompanied by a popular uprising in their favour, is cut to an entrance: removing some (not all textual) danger – as indeed all Fortinbras’ looming invasion is cut too.

If the Wanamaker’s recent Hamlet centred an arcing Act Three, this Hamlet culminates in a magnificent Act Five.

Here the gravedigging scene is uproarious, with Kafka now back as 1st Clown singing ‘Another one bites the dust’ tossing out bones and digging behind a grave, twits Picket and Baum. It’s an outstanding performance, lifting the whole before we shift gear and Kafka’s erstwhile partner Craig looms as ‘churlish priest’ and Geddes’ Laertes clashes violently with Pickett, broken up by Baum, Kade and Waring. Rosenfeld as fight director must take full credit for a magnificent on-point scrap, exactly following Hamlet’s cries of strangulation.

That’s as nothing compared with real foils in a breathtaking fight between Geddes and Pickett. The denouement too of Kearne, Henderson, Geddes and Pickett is handled with such aplomb that though final lines are cut (even ‘Good night, sweet prince’ unnecessarily), this reviewer really was moved.

Destined as one of the toughest OFS undertakings, it comes through with a blaze. Baum’s Horatio, with the three Hamlets – each getting better and better because they build on the last actor – Geddes Laertes’ meteor, the Craig/Kafka double-act and Kafka’s 1st Clown, are stand-outs.

One Hamlet might have been redeployed though the rationale of three is proven. Other actors, particularly Waring, seem underused.

But most of all we take away a stunning Act Five, from gravedigging to foiled finale this never lets up, and is a moving, fitting finale to OFS’s third season: an earnest of acting intensity, direction, sheer precision. It bodes well for this singular company’s future.


Hamlet  1                                                                               Rosanna Bini

Hamlet  2                                                                              Rachel Mullock

Hamlet  3                                                                              Lexi Pickett

Horatio                                                                                  Conor Baum

Polonius                                                                                Nimmy March

Claudius                                                                                Duncan Henderson

Gertrude                                                                                Deborah Kearne

Ophelia                                                                                   Eden Wolf-Naughton

Laertes                                                                                    Kirsty Geddes

Rosencrantz/Doctor                                                          Jules Craig

Barnardo/Guildenstern/1st Clown                               Natasha Kafka

Marcellus/Player Queen                                                  Seerché Deveraux

Ghost/Player Prologue/Player King/ Gentleman Ross Gurney-Randall

Lord/Messenger/Osric                                                      Logan Kade

Francisco/Player Lucianus/Gentleman                    Richard Waring