Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77 Newington Causeway, London SE 1 to 4 February 2023. 2**. William Russell.

This production by the usually reliable Lazarus Theatre Company is a disaster. Artistic Director Ricky Dukes had a brainwave – it is part of Southwark Playhouse’s Shakespeare for Schools – and should have been taken to a dark room and had a cold compress applied to his forehead and left to get over it. He decided working with young performers mainly in their early twenties to rule out asking them to play the likes of Polonius and then to omit all the adults and tell the story from the perspective of the young characters. We meet the cast sitting in a circle dressed in tracksuit trousers and matching blue tops. In the middle is a microphone and one by on they get up and tell the audience who they are and quite some lines from the play. Hamlet, played by Michael Hawkey, is the last to do so. It looks and sounds like one of those group therapy sessions for people with obsessions. Then we get a disembodied voice – female (Micha Colombo) – guiding things along and putting its oar in where necessary. The result is confused, the cast get nothing to work on – the hapless Ophelia (Lexine Lee) has her big rosemary and rue scene demolished and reduced to carry sprigs of green in jamjars – and, in any case, are all in need of some lessons in speaking the verse when there is any left to speak. Worst of all, however, is that Hamlet is reduced to little more than a high school jock with personality issues, a lad hard to like, and try hard – and he does – there is not much Michael Hawkey can do about it. Yorick gets a brief moment when produced from what looks like a refrigerator and Hamlet’s father dressed to look like Darth Vader does stalk on to no effect. Meanwhile Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are introduced and then forgotten about while three television monitors on the back wall flash up images that may have a point but what the point is proves impossible to ascertain.

There is a nice version of the Mousetrap done as a commedia del arte play and the slow motion duel at the end is rather well done, but in the ranks of so bad they are almost enjoyable this would view for top of the list except that it isn’t even enjoyable as a disaster to relish.. It is enough to put any pupil off Shakespeare for life. To be honest it probably deserves at most a single star but the cast are doing the best they can in the circumstances and are not to blame.

Micha Colombo: The Voice.

Michael Hawkey: Hamlet.

Juan Hernandez: Marcellus, Player King, Priest.

Lexine Lee: Ophelia.

Amber Masters: Rosencrantz.

Sam Morrris: Laertes, Lucianus.

Kiera Murray: Barnarda, Player Queen.

Raj Swami: Gildenstern.

Kalifa Taylor: First Polayer, Emilia.

Alex Zur: Horatio.

Director: Ricky Dukes.

Designer: Sorcha Corcoran.

Lighting Designer: Stuart Glover.

Composer, Sound Designer: Jovana Backovic.

Video Designer: Charles Flint.

Fight Director: Alice Emery.

Production Photograph: Charles Flint/

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