GERTRUDE to 30 June, London

by Howard Barker.

Theatre N 16 to 30 June
The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham SW12 9HD to 30 June 2016.
Sun – Thurs 7.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.

TICKETS: 07969 138899.
Review: William Russell 16 June

Another way of viewing the tragedy of Hamlet
Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, tends to be a rather shadowy presence who may well have married Claudius simply because that was the way a woman could survive in a medieval court rather than as the result of a love affair. Claudius is the usurper, she is surviving by the only means open to her. The role also tends to be played by actresses in the later years of their career.

But in Barker’s play Gertrude is just 34 – do the maths, it works – and she is the reason for the murder. She drives men mad and is herself driven by lust. It makes for a somewhat eye popping evening – lots of nudity and some quite explicit sex, albeit simulated.

The murder, with which it opens, is quite breathtakingly shocking in Chris Hislop’s staging of the play. Gertrude and Claudius copulate on the poisoned body, having ripped off their clothing, and the King, not yet quite dead, joins in. Hislop has staged the play, last seen in 2002 at the Riverside, in a traverse version and there is no escape for the audience. It works effectively and he is lucky in his cast.

The performances are powerful with Isabella Urbanowicz oozing ravening sexuality as Gertrude and Alexander Hulme making a powerful, strapping and besotted Claudius who will do anything to hear that cry again. It seems, when driven to an excess of sexual pleasure, Gertrude gets somewhat noisy.

Jamie Hutchins makes a splendidly pouting teenage Hamlet, an adult boy confused by the grown ups’ goings on, as teenagers often are, and Liza Keast is impressive as the not so innocent version of Ophelia.

Barker does not follow Shakespeare’s cast list and has created a massively sinister steward Cascan, played to the hilt, by Stephen Oswald, whose relationship with Gertrude is not at all clear, and who comments on the action, as well as a rival for Ophelia, ensnared by Gertrude. There is also a grandmother for Hamlet up to rather impressive no good.

The play, brutal and stimulating, however, is the thing, although it does eventually lose its way as the closing deaths pile up and becomes terribly overwrought. It is well worth catching because it really does throw a fresh light on Shakespeare.

Gertrude: Isabella Urbanowicz.
Claudius: Alexander Hulme.
Hamlet: Jamie Hutchins.
Cascan: Stephen Oswald.
Isola: Liza Keast.
Ragusa: LJ Reeves.
Albert: David Zachary.

Director: Chris Hislop.
Assistant director: Kim Southey.
Designer: Felicity Reid.

2016-06-17 19:33:31

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