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Hamlet (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Hamlet

Society: National Theatre (professional)

Venue: Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, London SE1 9PX

Credits: William Shakespeare. Reimagined for young audiences by Jude Christian and directed by Tinuke Craig



All photos: Ellie Kurttz

I’ve seen many of National Theatre’s Shakespeare for a young audiences over the years, sometimes on school premises and sometimes back at base on the South Bank. This pared down Hamlet (65 mins – who needs Horatio or Gravediggers?) has some of the clearest story telling I’ve ever seen. Sticking closely to Shakespeare’s play and using a fair bit of his language, this version ensures that every child in the audience is fully involved but none is patronised: quite an achievement for director Tinuke Craig and her cast.

This take on Hamlet is very much an intimate family drama rather than a big political play although it is witty to paraphrase one of Hamlet’s soliloquies with comments about lying leaders who party on while the rest of us cannot. Even the children chuckled knowingly. I liked the opening at the old king’s funeral – one big tribute spells KING and another reads DAD and there’s singing. Then Claudius (Vedi Roy) proposes to Gertrude (Claire Redcliffe) literally on top of his brother’s grave and we’re into a noisy party with dancing. We also get a splendid ghost scene with a scary§§§§ echoey voice. The  imposing tall ghost, like every character who dies, is covered in a gauzy veil so the status is obvious. And what a good idea to get the audience to provide sound effects for the play within a play which Hamlet directs getting his family to take parts.

The scene when Polonius (David Ahmad) gives his famous advice to Laertes (Chanel Waddock – deliciously sparky) is very funny with both Laertes and Ophelia (Jessica Olade) making it plain that they’ve heard every word of it many times before.

Karen Kebaily-Dwyer is warm and convincing as Hamlet although he is inclined to chop the lines into two or three-word sound bites – presumably in the interests of accessibility but to anyone used to feeling the rhythm it’s an irritant.

It’s a colourful production with Gertrude and Claudius in bright green and Rosencrantz (Efe Agwele) and Guildenstern in scarlet. The set (Frankie Bradshaw) is simple – mostly a single screen because it also has to work in primary school halls.

First published by Sardines.

Author information
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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