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Hamlet (Susan Elkin reviews)


William Shakespeare

Shakespeare at the George, Huntingdon

Directed by Lynne Livingstone

 Star rating: 3.5

For a community company to take Shakespeare’s longest, and arguably best, tragedy to an outdoor audience (boy racers revving up just beyond the wall) takes a certain amount of courage. Fortunately Shakespeare at the George is not short of that.  And this year we saw the company’s sheer gutsiness even more strongly because they have lost their iconic venue. After 65 years in the historic courtyard at The George in Huntingdon, next year’s show will have to be staged elsewhere because Greene King, the company which owns the pub, has ended the partnership.

One of the bonuses of the courtyard is that it comes with its own balcony and side stairs which makes an excellent space for the ghost’s first appearance, for eavesdroppers to lurk, and for off stage action to take place. I liked very much, for instance, the way director Lynne Livinsgtone sets up a visually overt relationship between Hamlet (Sam Buckenham) and Ophelia (Georgie Bickerdike) at the beginning of the play. It’s usually just something which is referred so fleetingly that it’s hardly believable that it ever happened. Before so much happens to sour it, these are definitely two young people who fancy each other and between whom marriage would be eminently suitable, despite what Ophelia’s father – actually mother in this production – tells her.

Buckenham is both credible and creditable as Hamlet (the largest role in the canon). He can do anger, cunning, despair and irresolution very well. The closet scene is as painful as it should be. It’s agonising for this young man to be torturing himself, and her, with details of his mother’s sex life. And his big soliloquies sound like naturalistic thought rather than the set pieces then can so easily become

Bickerdike’s Ophelia is a delight, one of the best I’ve seen for a long time. The wistful horror of her mad scene scene, accompanied by her sweet but manic singing,  will remain with me for a long time. And she’s very good earlier in the play too, twinkling at Hamlet, then puzzled by his change in attitude and torn by the instructions issued by her mother.

Alex Priestly as Polonia isn’t quite right though. Shakespeare’s Polonius is a bossy, tiresome, manipulative old man who loves to show off.  A woman in the role is bound to be softer. The relationship between a mother and daughter, moreover, is different from a father and daughter and we see this Polonia being maternally caring and protective which goes against the grain of the text.  I was not remotely convinced that this character would lurk behind the arras in Gertrude’s bedroom either. Caroline Molony’s, always tense, Gertrude looks fabulous (gorgeous late Elizabethan costumes by Helen Arnett and her team in this show) but somehow lacks the warmth. She has probably been having an affair with Claudius (Geoffrey Kirkness – competent), whom she has now married, for some time. So where’s the sparkle?

Horatio – Hamlet’s decent friend who loves him to the end – is not an easy role because he has to do so much observing from the sidelines but James Barwise gets it spot on. His Horatio is caring, concerned and supportive without ever stealing anyone else’s thunder.

A round of applause, too, for Reuben Milne as one of the most entertaining grave diggers I’ve ever seen. There aren’t many laughs in this play – and this production chooses not to stress the few that there are such as the pun in “country matters” – so Milne, ventriloquising the skull hilariously, is a well-judged contrast.

A cast of nineteen (oh the joy of community theatre!) and they’re all reasonable at what they do, means that you can have a full complement of “actors” to support the Player King and Fortinbras has an entourage and that all works well.

Well done, all of you. It’s a very decent and enjoyable show of its type. I look forward to applauding you in your new venue next year.

Author information
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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