by William Shakespeare.
New Vic Theatre To 19 March
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 19 March 2.15pm.
Audio-described 19 March 2.15pm.
Captioned 15 March
Post-show Discussion 15 March.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
then tour to 28 May 2011.
Runs 3hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 March at New Victoria Theatre Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Take it as it is, all in all, it’s not likely you will look upon its like again.
In the years after 1986, actor Michael Pennington and director Michael Bogdanov were selling their English Shakespeare Company tours to large regional theatres. Asked who their stars would be, they came to answer: the company. It’s similar with Barrie Rutter’s Northern Broadsides. Its style stamps the productions, and you take or leave it.
Certainly, no-one should go to Conrad Nelson’s production for individual performances, which mostly vary between the adequate and the puzzling. Why would Fine Time Fontayne’s Claudius play piano to accompany a courtier’s daughter in her nightclub number? Why do the Gravediggers come ungravely to work with a toe-tripping, squeezebox-rhythmed song?
Answer: because this is Northern Broadsides, and that’s how they do things. Nelson’s 1940s production summons-up a black-and-white world of wartime nerves, where Claudius’ long-coat and broad-brimmed hat at the keyboard is a kind of disguise mirrored when the Colvin (presumably) brothers accompany a number later on.
And Ophelia’s opening song, in elaborate cabaret costume, reappears in her mad songs, with the same dress spoiled, as she moves from her opening stage – subliminally a grand-piano lid – further along, where it’s sloped down to a pool of water.
Uneven, and unevenly-placed, platforms around the stage create a location out of joint, where Hamlet chalks some of his thoughts, connected with sex and murder, plus his conundrum whether to be or not. And – at the New Vic certainly – the flashlights and shouts opening the action dart around behind the audience, creating their own unease, while the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, thanks to several incarnations, seems to flit around Elsinore’s ramparts before fading away.
Fontayne’s Claudius is all – or mostly – smiles before the interval, fury and conniving afterwards. But the clearest character alteration is Becky Hindley’s Gertrude, poised and elegantly made-up until the bedroom scene, where a mental disintegration as clear as Lady Macbeth’s sets in. Physically and mentally shaken, she still provides the evening’s best conventional verse-speaking in her account of Ophelia’s death.
Nicholas Shaw makes clear Hamlet’s respect for his opponent Laertes, though generally he and others provide verse-speaking that isn’t an intriguing evening’s strong point.
Rosencrantz: David Colvin.
Guildenstern: Richard Colvin.
Gravedigger: Phil Corbitt.
Marcellus/Osric: Andy Cryer.
Ophelia: Natalie Dew.
Polonius: Richard Evans.
Claudius: Fine Time Fontayne.
Player Queen/Fortinbras: Alex Gilbert.
Gertrude: Becky Hindley.
Laertes: Tom Kanji.
Horatio: Guy Lewis.
Barnardo/Player King: Andrew Price.
Hamlet: Nicholas Shaw.
Director/Composer: Conrad Nelson.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: David Phillips.
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes.
Ghost Manipulation: Lee Threadgold.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.
Assistant director: Andy Cryer.
Assistant lighting: Kraig Winterbottom.