Not too long ago Mental Asylums were commonplace, they were institutes for the traumatised and for the vulnerable - to everyone on the outside they were places of healing, to everyone on the inside they were hell.
What must it be like to be trapped in a false reality? For your life to be defined by questions? just as our protagonist Hamlet searches for the answers to mortality, humanity and identity The Blue Orange Arts Team have been asking questions of their own.
This production of the Bard’s most famous and well recognised play posed more questions from the get go – inviting the audience to question alongside the players. In true Brechtian style, I left the Theatre abuzz with more than I had started with.
Director Oliver Hume’s interpretation of the The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is set in a minimally staged psychiatric ward – a large white trapezoid delineates the cold, sterile, confines of a hospital. This serves as a platform for Hamlet and how she sees the world (and herself), how she remembers the events that lead her to incarceration and most importantly (silently, from outside the white space) the effect these memories are having on those around her.
The entire performance expertly treads that fine line between what is real and what is imagined. This is amplified by a talented cast playing multiple characters who are seemingly tossed (sometimes literally) about the stage as and when called for.
Hamlet, the play, is a beast. It is unforgiving and hard skinned. By no means is it a play that one starts to change without care and respect, it can too easily bite back. I will admit that these were the misgivings I had prior to viewing, that I was going to see something ham-fisted, badly thought out, GCSE. All of this, was running through my head until:
A line of dialogue spoken from the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, one that Hamlet delivered directly to me – at the back of the Theatre. Whilst I am hoping this was coincidental, it certainly hammered home that this play was one to remember. Message received, loud and clear.
Eye contact or not, it was all quite simply wonderful.
This is a cast who understood what they were saying, why they were saying it and the impact that it would have on their audience. No word was thrown away or neglected, every phrase was filled with meaning and carefully chosen.
Special mention must be made to Ashleigh Aston who handled the depth of Hamlet's emotion with admirable versatility. It is a role that carries a burden (namely, the play itself) and she handled Hamlet's transitions of emotions, states and attitudes with incredible skill. Her default was a distraught, despairing Hamlet, with fleeting moments of serene gentility and exquisite anger.
Just as Hamlet carries a burden, so too does playing multiple characters! Each actor was responsible for at least one other character – something can very often be a technique that confuses an audience, in this instance was used cleverly, consistently and above all: clearly. There were so many moments of each performer really showcasing their versatility; the careworn Gertrude (Bryony Tebbutt) pleading for Hamlet to ‘snap out of it’, the serpentine Claudius (Alex Nikitas) convincing Laertes to kill Hamlet, Edward Lobola’s impassioned Laertes receiving news of his Father & Sisters death and the fragility of Ophelia’s descent into madness alongside Hamlet played masterfully by Hayley Grainger (especially in contrast to the hilariously Northern Rosencratz).
For theatre-goers who enjoy Shakespeare, this is not one to miss. For those of you who might think twice about going to see anything labelled with the Bard, I implore you to think again – this is an excellent and affordable performance that I guarantee you will understand – and enjoy!
This performance runs until March 3rd at The Blue Orange Theatre.
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