Hamlet by William Shakespeare. St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London WC2. to 27 July. 3***. William Russell

By William Shakespeare
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London to
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 50 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7240 0344.
Review: William Russell 25 June.

Something rotten in the state of Denmark

Iris, celebrating ten years of summer productions in the St Paul’s churchyard in Covent Garden have come up with a production of Hamlet directed by Daniel Winder starring non-binary transgender actor Jenet Le Lacheur as the gloomy Dane. It claims to explore idenitty, gender and meaning and also makes use of videos on which state propaganda and other material is broadcast to show is that all is not well in the state of Denmark. The casting of Le Lacheur works perfectly well, gender seems irrelevant to be honest, and the verse is sweetly spoken even if the voice us too small for this tricly open air venue. The soprano tones are fine, but a few contralto notes would not go amiss. The racket from the market square provied on press night at least impossible at timesr to overcome. Lacheur’s Hamlet is, however, nicely gawky, up for anything and has no fear when confronting the undeniably male Laertes of strapping Joe Parker in a nicely vicious sword fight at the end.
Iris likes to stage its plays here with an opening scene usually on the steps of the church and then moving the audience to the two garden spaces, back to the steps and at some point, often the end, inside the church. For this production it seemed pointless. Thing would have worked far better confined to the steps of the church as the solidity of the building interposes itself between the cast and the market roisterers. The use of videos simply did not work. They flickered, switched on and off at random and for all they conveyed might as well not have been there. Things are not helped – this is supposed to be set in the present – by quite the ugliest costumes ever to race a stage. That Ophelia, played by the statuesque Jenny Horsthuis is is more butch than Hamlet is neither here nor there, but she never manages to create a girl abused by the men who surround her, not least of whom is Hamlet. As for the hooded grey costume she is lumbered with, it does her no favours. Nor does Gertrude fare any better .
The other sex change is to make Polonius a woman, but again Paula James simply does not have the vocal resources for the venue and is also lumbered with a costume from hell. The play has, as is usual, been well cut, but if you are tackling it with a cast of seven – foolhardy and brave – surely Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could have disappeared for a start. T henecessary doubling also gets confusing. Ms Horsthios as well as being Ophelia plays Guildenstern, Bernardo, Fortinbras, a Player and a Priest and proves much more comfortable in these trouser roles than when she is murdering the mad scene, while deciding whther Mr Parker is Laertes or Rosencrantz becomes something of a test.
Vinta Morgan makes a fine solid Claudius and, when she gets the chance, Clare Bloomer rises well to the challenge of Gertrude. But the settings are perverse. The closet scene, which is crucial, is played in one of the garden spaces with the action level with the audience so that it is practically impossible to see what is going on. At least the other garden area has an elevated stage. Promenade performances are fine when what is being performed suits that sort of production style but this Hamlet just needs to plonk itself down and get on with the story.
It all works well enough – the play is the thing – but never overcomes the problem that besets Hamlets in difficulties. The script sounds as if the cast were reading from a dictionary of quotations so thick and fast do the familiar lines pour out.
The less said about the ghost the better, except that whatever the apparition looks like it ought to strike fear in the hearts of all who see it and a man in a white suit stained green here and there to indicate decay with his head muffled in cotton wool and tissue merely looks like something from the circus provoking only laughter.
The best thing about the evening, the lissom Le Lacheur apart , is the rather good programme note on Shakespeare by Barbara Winder with which to while away the time at the interval.
Horatio: Harold Addo.
Gertrude: Clare Bloomer.
Ophelia: Jenny Horsthuis.
Polonius: Paula James.
Hamlet: Jenet Le Lacheur.
Claudius: Vinta Morgan.
Laertes: Joe Parker.

Director: Daniel Winder.
Set Designer: Mike Leopold.
Fight Choreographer: Nathaniel Maren.
Costume Designer: medline Berry.
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Polya.
Sound Designer: Filipe Gomes.
Video Designer: Helga Fannon.
Movement Director: Amy Warren.
Production Photographs: Nick Rutter.

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