There are several things that make Hamlet an enormously difficult play for any company to tackle. One is the fact that while psychologically on the page this is, many would argue, Shakespeare’s finest work, it’s tough to transfer its confused, strong emotions on to the stage.
Another is the familiarity of so many of the lines. What DO you do with “Alas poor Yorrick”? It’s been taken far past cliche.
And the sheer implausibility of the plot, particularly the denoument, can very quickly dissolve into slapstick horror.
The Recognition Theatre company, presenting a production oddly set in the 1930s (a jazz soundtrack serves only as distraction, not amplification), hasn’t really got on top of the problems. Which isn’t to say this a show without its merits – the mostly young cast do a decent, if somewhat declamatory job with the language, which rings out clearly, both the familiar and less-known.
Perhaps the best performance here is Helen Clapp’s Ophelia; she’s powerful without dissolving into hysteria, and Leanne Rivers manages an interesting cross-dressing Horatio. David Eadie as Hamlet and Adam Smethurst as Claudius were uneven – both growing in confidence as press night went on, but still not quite getting there.
Tanith Lindon’s staging is effective – the action not marred by too much faffing around with the furniture, as have a few shows I’ve seen lately, and the recurring imagery of funeral shrouds notably effective.
There’s much to recommend more generally about productions like this – much, much better than 50 people sitting in their living rooms watching television to have them gathered in a communal, social, active atmosphere – and seeing the Bard’s words live in slightly rough and ready form, much like they were originally performed.
I got into trouble last year with some commenters for recommending a probably slightly rougher production of Macbeth at a similar venue in South London, but I’m determined to continue to encourage audiences to such productions. RSC-style class and gloss is great, and everyone should see some Shakespeare that way, but there’s much to be gained too from humbler productions for local audiences.
The production continues at the Brockley Jack, in southeast London, until September 25.