The question isn’t to be or not to be, but rather is this different version of Hamlet Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
The Hamlet text that Ilissos Theatre Company have chosen to perform at the Cockpit Theatre is a quicker and more energetic piece that the cast perform with great intensity.
This particular text, as the director Charles Ward notes in the programme is the First Quarto that some consider to be the first draft of the more familiar version that Shakespeare created and therefore less performed, giving audiences who have seen Hamlet a few times a new perspective.
Ilissos and Ward have opted to keep this production as simple as possible, relying on the language (for those looking for the famous ‘to be or not to be’ speech – it is radically different) and the characterisations to keep the audience intrigued. This is fine, but it does mean that everything feels a bit too casual to be taken seriously, particularly when you consider the costumes or the use of modern music that confuses exactly what era the production is supposed to be set in.
However, there is strengths to be found watching this production, particularly with the effective lighting, designed by Rachel Sampley to make the key moments really standout atmospherically. This can be seen in particular with Hamlet’s (Nicholas Limm) monologues or the haunting scene in which Hamlet confronts his father’s ghost.
There is also strong performances to be seen as well. Nicholas Limm as Hamlet takes a while to really gain momentum, but his balance between the hyperactive side of the character to the quietly menacing influence is well executed and keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Sam Jenkins-Shaw also shines as Leartes, his grief and anger at the murder of his father a powerful moment in the play.
Meanwhile, Maryam Grace has a graceful charm about her performance as Ofelia – but at times lacks conviction, particularly in terms of showing her at her wits end that doesn’t perhaps convince as much as it should.
At times, the production while it has great energy, moves too quickly in places in a way that means the audience is likely to miss what is being said in places – by slowing the pace down slightly, would be more effective.
Out of the two acts, the second is perhaps the stronger as it allows more character development and is certainly more powerful and heartfelt. But the production as a whole is just slightly lacking in finesse in a production that re-evaluates the version of Shakespeare’s play that we are familiar with.
Hamlet is presented by Ilissos Theatre at the Cockpit Theatre until the 30th April. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/hamlet_1