Thursday, 31 October 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Hamlet - The Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham.

Having visited the Mary Wallace Theatre twice before, I find myself wanting to write about the venue each time. The theatre is just a short walk from the banks of the Thames and the building has more character than you might expect from a local venue. The residents of Twickenham come out in force whenever they have performances and tonight there was also a party of local students in attendance which was great to see. The building itself is full of character and history and the staff are so welcoming to all who visit.

This was the first time I had seen a Shakespeare production at The Mary Wallace, despite the fact that it is the home of the Richmond Shakespeare Society (RSS). It is perhaps one of the most recognisable works thanks to many high profile actors being shown holding the skull and quoting the line “Alas poor Yorick” – sadly this is often misremembered as Hamlet does not follow this with “I knew him well”.

We live in a time where gender roles are being constantly challenged and whilst this is not the first time I have seen Hamlet played as Lady Hamlet (Francesca Ellis), it was refreshing that the RSS were prepared to push this boundary. It changes the presentation of the play without distracting you from what is an exhilarating plot – I might go as far as saying it feels more natural to see Hamlet as a female role.

Whilst I suspect that the vast majority of people reading this review will not need to be reminded of the plot, it is worth noting a few points – not least that the RSS production takes place in modern day Denmark. King Hamlet has just died and his only child, has been replaced by the King’s younger brother Claudius (Chris Mounsey) who immediately marries Gertrude (Jane Marcus) – the widow of the old King. The King and Queen’s advisor, Polonia (Susan Reoch) has a son Orpheus (Jamie Barker) who wishes to be romantically involved with Hamlet and a daughter Laerta (Nicola Doble) who departs early in the play to school in France – to return later when she finds out of her mother’s death.

It was very refreshing to see some use of technology in this production, the King’s ghost (Francis Abbott) being projected onto a platform as a hologram during some of the early scenes. Where speaking parts were required then Abbott played these in person, dressed in the same orange boiler suit as was used in the hologram, but with his voice manipulated to emphasise that this was a ghost figure.

There are many things to enjoy about this production of Hamlet and having seen the play many times over several years, I have to confess that I cannot remember a better performance of Hamlet than was played this evening by Francesca Ellis. It was powerful, believable, and passionate and without doubt very true to the original character that Shakespeare created. It is hard to imagine how Ellis could improve her performance – despite this being such a well-known plot it was hard to ignore the gasps and intakes of breath that you could hear throughout the audience during the most dramatic moments.

If I had any expectations of the RSS productions at The Mary Wallace Theatre then they were exceeded here. I have singled out Ellis, and quite rightly, but in truth the performances of many of the cast were superb. Nicola Doble as Laerta, Emily O’Mahony as Horatio, Jamie Barker as Orpheus all deserve high praise. If you haven’t seen an RSS production at the Mary Wallace Theatre then I would thoroughly recommend a visit – you will not be disappointed.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 29/10/19

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