I’m going to try my hardest to review the play as a whole before asking rhetorical questions and trying to find the method in the madness. Firstly, it was performed in the round which lends itself perfectly to Hamlet. So often the walls have ears and much is overheard that it makes sense for there to be no escape from attentive ears. The high ceiling is filled with light bulbs, they light the actors obviously but they add to the drama of the ghost. They flash wildly and lead Hamlet to the ghost of his father where they lower to illuminate their faces from wonderful angles.
I realised I’m talking a lot about the set, but apart from what I have mentioned above, the set is a bugbear of mine. I liked the slick black floor but once the players leave Hamlet after their first meeting, they rip up the floor to expose the wooden floor boards. Why? To what purpose? These two questions plagued me throughout the play. Why? To what purpose? The play by the players is mimed by children to music before teens say a line each before it is acted by adults. Why? To what purpose? Did they get more Arts Council funding if they included their youth theatre? I don’t understand these decisions.
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz rock up to the scene. Almost literally, they are dressed as rockers and Rosencrantz is a girl. My issue lies in Rosencrantz offering Hamlet a little plastic bag of white powder that screams cocaine. Why? To what purpose? There are no other hints of drug use, if you’re going to introduce something so violent it should be continued. The madness of Hamlet has never needed hard drugs before. With a play so well known as Hamlet, every small decision makes a big impact and will be scrutinised so do not make them lightly.
For example, it might look nice to have the grave diggers dig at a pile of clothes, they made a nice ‘pomf’ when they fell from the ceiling. But why?! Clothes haven’t been made important enough in ANY PART OF THE PLAY to make this significant. Yorick is a cream jumper bundled up?! As you can see, I’m annoyed.
The acting was flawless, there were some clever changes and decisions that brought new life to the play. I strongly believe you should only perform Shakespeare if you have something new to offer. There were fully executed gender changes. Polonius became Polonia. I preferred it. Rather than a creeping gentleman, you have a ‘yes man’, well, yes woman. It made for some laugh out loud moments.
Time for the finale, what were you trying to achieve having Maxine Peake play Hamlet? Before I begin, she was brilliant, like really fucking brilliant. It wasn’t a gender change. They used male pronoun: he, him, his etc etc. You get the idea. But she wore make up. The big relieving madness, Hamlet has lipstick smeared on HIS cheek. Why? To what purpose? This is a poor attempt at something I thought would be ground breaking. I’m very upset.