Thursday, 31 August 2017

Review Hamlet

More about kin than kings, Peter Barker is pleasantly surprised by an odd, but intriguing,  fast-moving Hamlet

by William Shakespeare

Everything And The Kitchen Sink

Keep It In The Family could be a tongue-in-cheek alternative title for Hamlet, but the Brandreth family take it literally as the cue for their cut-down version of Shakespeare’s most celebrated play.

It's the tale of Hamlet, a self-examining Danish prince increasingly out of sync with his times after his father’s death and the sudden marriage of his mother to his uncle.

Updated to the modern age, directors Simon Evans and David Aula with script editor Imogen Bond have produced a 90-minute one-act play which has the speed of a TV drama  or movie.

We're in an affluent middle-class kitchen, an attractively detailed set from Polly Sullivan,  with oak cupboards, other pine furniture and a handy set of knives, just in case they're needed.

Benet Brandreth tackles the role of Hamlet, while his wife actress Kosha Engler and his Dad, Gyles, former MP and current media personality, split the rest of the roles.

By day (when he's not doing the matinées!) Benet is an intellectual property lawyer and an expert in rhetoric working with, among others, the RSC.

As might be expected, his delivery is very clear, but it's also a very different kind of interpretation - an unsympathetic, bad-tempered, entitled public schoolboy who, deliberately, often shouts his soliloquys at the audience.

Yet, he is relaxed and witty on first meeting an old university friend. Plus his rendition of "to be or not to be",  first read from a philosophy book and then turned into a debate with himself, worked for me. 

Gyles Brandeth captures Claudius's man-in-power hypocrisy and oily charm, as well as the complacent pomposity of Polonius, notably in the funny and realistic exchange with his son Laertes.

But here a minus kicks in. Having actors double up on the spot left me wondering if this was a dialogue between father and son or father and daughter - with both of Polonius's children acted by the otherwise excellent Kosha Engler.

Despite some entertaining programme notes by Gyles, I did wish I'd brought a Hamlet crib for my companion who came knowing nothing about the play.

We both pondered the script and directorial decisions which left Engler, for instance, doing a confusing immediate switch from garlanded Orphelia to her vengeful brother Laertes - also complete with garland. Similarly the switches between Claudius and Polonius were not always clear.

Nevertheless, there's a certain wit to the staging and a daring knife game which gives an adventurous twist to the fight scenes, sustaining the pace and tension.

Preconceptions about Brandeth senior dismissed, this proved to be an entertaining, if sometimes confusing, evening. The relatively short running time and swiftly moving action kept me hooked.

There's a certain panache to the performances of the trio and, dare I say it, Gyles Brandeth proves his acting chops and I wouldn't mind seeing more of him on the stage.  There are flaws but I still enjoyed this Hamlet enough to award an amber/green light.

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