bloodiest. Presented as a six hander it runs for just ninety tense minutes. And unlike just about every other abridged Hamlet there is no doubling apart from a resurrected Polonius (David Fielder) morphing into the gravedigger. Instead we get, for example, a conflation of Laertes with Horatio and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Also neat is the way Kelly Hunter runs one scene on the back of another so that, for example the mad scene segues out of the closet scene and the final scene takes place around the body of Ophelia (Francesca Zoutewelle) as if we were still at the graveside. It makes for very coherent, well paced storytelling – and also means you’re not fretting about the last train as you do towards the end of a full-length Hamlet.
Mark Arends as Hamlet trembles, weeps, twitches, has fits during which he’s possessed by his father’s ghost, sings, and succumbs to childish tantrums, as well as having, and using, what must be the most expressive feet in the industry. They’re as delicate and articulate as another pair of hands. It’s a riveting performance. Highly talented Francesca Zoutewelle gives us the most harrowing mad scene ever and Katy Stephens is pretty mesmerising as a drunken, troubled Gertrude trying to conceal her own misery even from herself. She dies horribly and beautifully. Tom Mannion’s measured, manipulative Claudius is enhanced by his magnificent speaking voice and David Fielder does wonderful things with his penetrating, darting eyes as nosy but unfortunate Polonius. Finlay Cormack finds plenty of passion in his composite Laertes role too.
This Hamlet is effectively an intimate family drama played in a small black box studio which makes it feel appropriately immersive. The simple set helps too – it consists mostly of a black leather sofa which gets imaginatively used for various purposes including the provision of a hiding place for eavesdroppers.
On the whole this is a very interesting and well thought out take on the play with some outstanding acting. I have only two gripes. The dropping into modern English and the reworking of the play within a play as a game feels awkward and contrived. Secondly, the famous unearthed skull is definitely Yorrick’s. There has never been any textual doubt about that since the day the play was written. So why use a skull which is clearly not human?