Tuesday, 18 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Hamlet - The Curtain Theatre, Rochdale.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of theatre’s most well-known by The Bard, written sometime between 1599 and 1602, and also the longest - considered among the most powerful and influential works of world literature. With its full title as ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’, it saves me some explanation of the plot and who it is about - and who the lead character is - but, described as a ‘tragedy’, with the inclusion of the writer’s keynote wit, the story follows the Prince’s awareness, through his friends Horatio (Joe Marsden) and Marcellus, a soldier (Josh Leach), of his father’s ghost (Paul Dawson) - a soldier - appearing daily, as a warning. It turns out that the deeper plot involved the current king, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius (Andy Anderson) having killed his father in order to take on the throne, with wife - Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Lois Kelly).

Comprising five acts, we witness the initial presence of the former King’s ghost and Orphelia’s declaration of love for Hamlet. Lord Chamberlain, Polonius (Phil McCarthy) warns the king and queen of his concern over his daughter(Orphelia) when she is visited by Hamlet in a state of panic, maybe madness. The monarchs request that Hamlet’s college friends Rosencrantz (Elena Bracken / Josh Each) and Guildenstern (Greg Williams) seek out the reason for his behaviour. Hamlet plots to stage a play featuring a death in the style of his father's murder - The Murder of Gonzago - to determine the truth of the ghost's story and studying Claudius’ reaction.

After the play, Hamlet’s mother calls him to her quarters to speak, with Polonius hidden behind a chair/bed. When Hamlet suspects they aren’t alone, he reaches behind and stabs Polonius thinking it is Claudius. Fearing for his life, Claudius sends Hamlet and his college friends to England with a letter to the English King requesting that Hamlet be executed immediately. He returns home to Denmark and the King (Claudius) decides to plan to challenge Hamlet to a fencing match with Polonius’ son Laurtes (Josh Potts) who arrives angered by his father’s death, a poison-tipped foil in the hand of Laurtes and if that fails, poisoned wine as a congratulation. Gertrude interrupts to report that Ophelia has drowned. The famous grave-side scene follows as Orphelia is buried and a gravedigger (Andy Hall) informs Hamlet that the grave used to be that of his royal jester Yorick (hence the inclusion of the line “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio”). Hamlet and Laurtes fight before it is broken up and an extremely camp courtier Osric (Josh Leach) delivers the fencing challenge. After the first match Gertrude raises a toast and drinks the poison wine.

Laertes slashes Hamlet with his poisoned blade and, in a scuffle, they switch weapons. Hamlet wounds Laertes with his own poisoned sword and, in his dying moments, Laertes reconciles with Hamlet and reveals Claudius's plan. Hamlet rushes at Claudius and kills him. As the poison takes effect, Hamlet, hearing that Fortinbras, Prince of Norway is marching through the area, names the Norwegian prince as his successor. Horatio, distraught at the thought of being the last survivor and living whilst Hamlet does not, says he will commit suicide by drinking the dregs of Gertrude's poisoned wine, but Hamlet begs him to live on and tell his story. Hamlet dies in Horatio's arms, proclaiming "the rest is silence". Fortinbras (Ed Taylor), who was ostensibly marching towards Poland with his army, arrives at the palace, along with an English ambassador bringing news of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's deaths. Horatio promises to recount the full story of what happened, and Fortinbras, seeing the entire Danish royal family dead, takes the crown for himself and orders a military funeral to honour Hamlet.

Full of action, despite its length, energy was upheld throughout and the strength of character was too. With a set by Tony Cragg and modern costumes by Lynn Sheerin and the theatre itself, Peter Fitton’s direction is well-executed and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 12/6/19

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