20 June 2014

Brutal and brilliant Hamlet at the Riverside

Something about this production appealed to me from when I first saw the listing but it got caught up among many other things and I was only able to see it in the last week of its run and then I had to escape from work in Reading promptly to see it.

It had been a busy week with a heavy commute and come late nights (and early mornings) and I was a little worried that I might struggle to pay full attention throughout. How wrong I was.

This was a brutal and brilliant version of Hamlet that ripped the guts out of the original, trimmed them a little, moved it to today's Liverpool and added some colloquial language. That may sound like a strange thing to do but it was pure genius and I loved every second of it.

The tone was set from the beginning with Hamlet being strip searched on entry to prison. The language was modern day and even made reference to England's elimination from the work cup that had happened that day. Reclotherd in prison greys Hamlet then spoke of his mother's quick marriage to her brother-in-law on the recent death of her husband, Hamlet's father. This was told in Shakespeare's and a Scouse accent.

Setting the play in a prison made the violence (there was a lot of it) more natural and also more brutal.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were a particularly nasty pair filling the stage with swagger, violence and strong language.

The villain of the piece, Hamlet's uncle Claudius, was equally superb in his suave malevolence. He was every inch the criminal big man from something like Layer Cake.

And Hamlet (Adam Lawrence) was everything that Hamlet has to be, moody, vengeful, loving, violent and despairing. It was a masterful performance.

Everything about the production was wonderful and made the familiar story even darker and more visceral. But this was not Scum because it was still very much Shakespeare.

This is the sort of Shakespeare that school children should be encouraged to see.

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