by William Shakespeare.
Blackwells Bookshop Broad Street OX1 3BQ To 24 March 2012.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01865 766266.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 March.
Every night something different – and every night something worthwhile.
“Right, that’s broken the back of the play. Let’s take a break,” says director Tim Carroll introducing the interval in his production for The Factory theatre company – or “squad”. But a broken-backed Hamlet’s not what people come for. And despite the widely-praised Factory methods, often little announcement of performance place and date, actors swapping parts nightly, roles each evening being determined by audiences, there‘s something hit-and-miss about the experience in Blackwell’s Bookshop.
It can resemble an impro show as actors grab objects brought along by the night’s audience. Old Hamlet’s Ghost, cloth stuffed in mouth, makes a strong image of his difficulty in communicating. An armchair doing duty for the pipe Hamlet taunts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to play is positively surreal (Ceci n’est pas une pipe indeed) – especially when there’s a perfectly good, if slightly over-ripe, banana available as alternative. Others are merely perverse.
Yet they all bring a sense of risk and games-playing to the evening. Performance style, speed of action and low-key modern dress erase some detail but also take a heavinesss from the production. Essentially, The Factory put the ‘play’ into the play.
“That was Hamlet tonight,” Carroll aptly concludes. They create and discard. Tonight’s ideas replace other performers’ ideas from last night, and tomorrow’s cast will start all over again.
It doesn’t stop some performances being more satisfying than others, especially in vocal quality. And the demands on memory of words and movements (free-form or pre-determined) mean there are some moments when things stop, or (especially in act one as things start moving) when sentences are split into brief, unnatural sections with the suggestion of moments being taken to remember upcoming words.
It will be different every night. Last night the play-within-a-play was a mess, not helped by there being only two squaddies for the cast. Yet there was a rare danger in Hamlet’s meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
And there were gains from what’s not there. This method has no place for encrusted mannerisms; it was enjoyable to meet Gravediggers who didn’t sound like Ambridge low-life and an Osric who was sensible and intelligent.
It was pure shame though to find a paying audience expected to put up with an approved photographer clicking audibly throughout. And shocking to find the oldest, best-known bookshop in the city of a leading world-class university having misspelled and wrongly punctuated signs on its walls.
Performers (some of)) Alex Barclay, Alex Bartram, Alex Blake, Scott Brooksbank, Leila Crerar, Joanna Croll, Federay Holmes, John Hopkins, Madeleine Hyland, Stephanie Lane, Ben Lambert, Rhys Meredith, Jennifer Monaco,
Amanda Morgan, Simon Muller, Marianne Oldham, Jonathan Oliver, James Oxley, Lizzie Phillips, Laura Rees, Liz Richardson, Jethro Skinner, Ben Thompson, Sian Williams.
Director: Tim Carroll.
Associate directors: Louis Scheeder, Tamara Harvey.
Assistant director: Reuben Grove.