13 March 2015

A different and daring Hamlet at The Cockpit

My Shakespearean encounters continued with another Hamlet, this time at the Cockpit and with a woman playing the lead role, though, unlike Lear, she was playing it as a man.

But first I had to get there. The theatre came at the end of a long day with an interview in the morning and a feast of wedding dresses in the afternoon. Getting from the V&A to the Cockpit, not that far apart as the crow flies, was not simple and I opted for the 46 bus which took me a lot of the way but left a reasonable walk at the far end.

It was a tiring walk on a tiring day so I rested for a while at the Lord High Admiral at the end of Church Street Market which was at the final stage of closing for the day. This was one of those pubs that time forgot and had been unchanged for decades. There was no chance of any food or even of real ale. I had a pint of keg Worthington Smooth, territory I had not trodden for many years, not since beer was re-invented.

I was resigned to surviving the evening on peanuts (not for the first time) and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Cockpit had some Lebanese vegetarian pasties so I had a couple of those. And a Budvar.

When summoned by the bell I went for my usual spot in the front-row on the right side of the entrance. This cost me £29.50 which, by my standards, was a little on the high side but anything under £30 required little justification.

This Hamlet was set in a school and that reminded me of Rinaldo at Glyndebourne. Hamlet was one of the school boys in an small class and Horatio was a teacher. The other classmates were Laertes, Ophelia and Rosencrantz. The only other members of the cast were Hamlet's mother and stepfather.

This Hamlet was also heavily abridged and one of the victims of the cuts was the opening scene with the ghost of his father. That took a little getting used to at first but did nothing to harm the flow or coherence of the story.

As with the adaptation of Hamlet that I saw at the Riverside, this version focussed on one aspect of the play and this time it was the core theme of Hamlet's thirst for revenge and the violent consequences of that. Even strimmed down to this core, this Hamlet ran for over an hour and a half so it was by no means slight. The bits of the play that were left were thick with emotion, both Hamlet's and the other people's reacting to his.

The staging was physical without being distracting. The movement flowed across the full gamut of the stage making the most of staging it in the round. The movement also climbed on to the tables and chairs to give height as well as width and depth. Apart from the furniture, sparing use was made of props so when they did come into play they made more of an impact. There was a memorable scene where large red, blue and white handkerchiefs (the sort magicians have) were used in quick succession to represent blood, tears and semen. That got a laugh; one of the few.

It is hard to go wrong with Hamlet and they didn't. The drama built solidly towards the known tragic ending that managed to remain dramatic despite being known. It was a thoroughly engrossing and imaginative production that was delivered assuredly.

I hung around the bar for a little while afterwards hoping to catch a quick word with some of the cast (I love theatres where you can do that) and was delighted to speak to Hamlet him/herself who looked very different in her post-show shocking red lipstick. A perception testing end to an intelligent evening.

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