Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review Gertrude - The Cry

Gertrude - The Cry
by Howard Barker

That Obscure Object Of Desire

What, Sigmund Freud might have asked, does Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet want? And equally, what does playwright Howard Barker want? This, after seeing his mysterious 2002 reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet focussing not on the "sweet prince", but Hamlet's mother and an accomplice to murder, Gertrude.

Directed by Chris Hislop, this is a mainly well-paced and impressive production. Izabella Urbanowicz  leads the cast as the eponymous Gertrude, a dishevelled, yet sluttishly alluring predatory long-legged she-wolf  loping down the white traverse catwalk stage designed by Felicity Reid.

Where Gertrude leads, her erstwhile brother-in-law Claudius follows with no real thought for the consequences except in his will to possess the Queen as if it were some out of control erotic chess game where the pieces are also the players.

The play begins with the act (in all senses of the word), which Shakespeare turns into an  reenactment, of King Hamlet senior's murder by his brother Claudius (Alexander Hulme), lover of Gertrude. Furthermore in Barker's version the adulterous pair perform a graphic sex act on the dying man as if to imprint frames from a pornographic film on the murdered King's retinas.

At one end of the catwalk are indeed video projections which heighten the sense of visceral voyeurism and molecular ebb and flow. In this Elsinore, power in the capital is to be grasped, often with little regard for the future but as an animal act of possession. Family ties dissolve in the sexual and power-grabbing competition.

And this would be almost laughable except for an insurance. Underwritten by a black humour which increases the tragic intensity, a modern post Second World War sensibility combines with primeval animal instincts in this play.

Gertrude's son, Hamlet (Jamie Hutchins), turns out to be a child man.  He's half Dennis the Meance, jumped out of the pages of The Beano with bovver boots and half City slicker with red braces. He prides himself on his intellectual capabilities in dissecting the political structure, while still complacent and mysogynist in a world  predicated on a male heir.

According to his own grandmother (Liza Keast), Hamlet is "a bore and a moralist" This is also a Hamlet who becomes King learning the language of dispute but, like other characters, more and more disconnected as dangerous events unravel.

The other characters in Hamlet are fused into a new trio. Maybe Prince Hamlet has inherited a feeling of immunity from his paternal grandmother Isola who has herself survived the fruit of her womb, her two sons, turning on each other.

Isola appears to have confidence she can still handle her daughter-in-law, as she feels her way through the wild twists and turns of the Elsinore royal court. A court shaped by the destructive trail left by Getrude accompanied by her unregulated cry, a cry, she says, which is "never false".

Meanwhile the man servant Cascan, a strong presence in the heavily-built Stephen Oswald, seems at first the most in control of his destiny - but with a touch of the agent provocateur undercover police officer in spite of saying "a servant may not urge".

Ragusa (LJ Reeves), far from being a lonely Orphelia figure, remains self-contained rather than disconnected and marries Hamlet in a loveless match. But Gertrude excruciatingly attaches herself to Hamlet's friend, Albert Duke of Mecklenberg, although by the end of the play there is just a hint this relationship may swing in Albert's rather than Gertrude's favour.    

Getrude could be construed as a woman exercising power through her untrammelled sexuality and fertility. But this is just as much, through character, a disquisition on the state, the monarchy in the modern age, royal yet servants and citizens, its intersection with a country's institutions and with a market-driven global economy.

The play lasts some two hours with an interval, which sometimes feels long, but this is a powerful piece, boldly acted and directed. With some topless female nudity, anger and danger always threatening to spill over from the catwalk, it's an amber/green light from TLT.

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