Brighton Fringe 2007
Venue: The Marlborough Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Inventively staged, gripping and cinematic version of the great tragedy
The Marlborough theatre got very hot. It was a full house on a first night, and this was Shakespeare. Not just Shakespeare but one of his tragedies. Not just one of his tragedies, but Hamlet!
From the moment Hamlet’s ghost-father appeared, inventively lit, genuinely eerie on the small Marlborough Stage I knew this was not going to be the long evening I feared. This is very fine Shakespeare. Time flew. The audience loved it. So did I.
Nicky Hayden, Director, and abridger (as well as playing Hamlet himself) Max Day, have created a very cinematic play, with lighting cleverly picking out scenes and set pieces. Nicky Hayden knows her Marlborough well and made it five times bigger than it really was. She has created large scale theatre. This show deserves an award for a breath-taking sword-fight finale on a stage no wider than a table tennis court.
To be honest, if I wasn’t such a big-mouth I’d be speechless. The staging is innovative, verging on genius. This is a master class in how to use a few lights to powerful effect.
The cut-down version of the script simplifies without ever dumbing down, and the choice of words as well as the direction finds much comedy in this tragedy, so often missing in other stagings. We laughed aloud a lot, yet never lost the sense of desperation and pain in the family at war with itself.
Each soliloquy was perfectly placed, both physically onstage and in the abridged script.
Hamlet was sometimes a bit too over-the-top and “stagey”, but this is a minor quibble in a performance from Max Day that kept the audience transfixed from first to last. His style is reminiscent of George Dillon, and that is only to praise him. This is the Hamlet I’ve been waiting for. Hamlet the procrastinator, Hamlet the self-pitier, Hamlet the revenger, and, of course, Hamlet the comedian.
A supporting cast to die for, this was an ensemble piece and I felt the sense of physical and dramatic collaboration. It all worked. Ophelia was somewhat too restrained but her madness was played quietly, which worked in the piece.
Rosencrantz and Guildernstern provided all the necessary dry comedy, Polonius was a young father (so often played as a bumbling old man), and Bill Arundel brought a new perspective to bear on the character – more canny and strategic in middle age.
Claudius and Gertrude were played just right and also had their share in the comedy and were charismatic and powerful in their more serious role. They were a perfect couple of Hell.
Mention must also be made of the excellent protean Jason Wing, a man of many guises!
Well done to the rest of the cast for a five star show that is just going to get better and better.
My only warning to the group is this: you have made a show that transforms a small space perfectly. I wonder how it will be in a much larger space? Will it stretch easily or will it need a fresh look?
Overall (and I heard this from more than one member of the audience too): Time flew by. This is the best Hamlet I have ever seen.