It pained me to say that I had never seen a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on stage. I’ve studied it several times, seen the Branagh film, and more recently, the Tennant version, but until this summer, I’d never seen those powerful words placed in their true home. Thank goodness I waited so long. The touring production directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst is not only a brilliant piece of theatre, but is, in my opinion, one of the truest performances of a Shakespeare text that I’ve seen.
Introduced as a group of travelling players, wearing whatever costumes they managed to get their hands on, the show took on a post-war era atmosphere, but did not skimp on the use of swords and instruments. Designed by Jonathon Fensom, it was easy to see how to transfer the show to different venues, whilst making it fit incredibly comfortably in the heart of the Globe.
The question that everyone asks when they hear you’re going to see Hamlet is “who’s playing the lead role?” – for me, it was the somewhat unknown Michael Benz, and he made the character his own in an extraordinary way. One often forgets that Hamlet is in fact a student, a young man dealing with the recent loss of the father, but still nevertheless a mischievous ‘lad’. Benz realised this in an emotive way, bouncing off of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Peter Bray and Matthew Romain) with natural humour and ease. Similarly, ‘that speech’ was done with sincerity but a fluidity that is sometimes lacking in previous performances. He did not over play the words, but said it as though they were his own with real insight.
The whole small cast showed brilliant talent, many taking on multiple roles, and all getting involved in playing the instruments and dancing in a hilarious but well thought through ‘players’ scene. But someone of notable if subtle merit was Tom Lawrence, taking on Horatio. This character can sometimes be overlooked, being more the messenger than the heart of the action, but Lawrence drew out the earnestness of Hamlet’s close friend with a wonderful simplicity. The contrast between his quietness and Benz’ energy made the final scene all the more moving.
This production has it all – fantastic actors, great script (though that goes without saying), intelligent design choices, and of course a jig at the end that was cleverly segued into without detracting from the ending emotion. Unfortunately, the tour is now moving to America from the 8th September, but fingers crossed they will return to our shores once more and treat us to another run of this exceptional play.