Icarus Theatre Collective’s take on Hamlet is certainly different, but the matinee performance at the Lawrence Batley Theatre did little to suggest that the new ideas are sufficient to compensate for what has been left out, writes Ron Simpson.
Pleasing as it is that Huddersfield should be the first date on a major tour, the audience was left appreciative, but puzzled and uninvolved.
At 2 ¼ hours stage time this is a heavily cut Hamlet. The characters of Reynaldo and Fortinbras are omitted, the former a sensible decision in a nine-person cast, the latter leading to an unsatisfactory melodramatic end to the play.
However, most of the cuts are within scenes, leaving us at times with a bare bones narrative and very little characterisation.
Curtis C. Trout’s stepped and columned imperial set is a bit of an obstacle course, though lending itself to dramatic posing, but Sound and Music (Theo Holloway) and Lighting (Declan Randall) are thoroughly effective in building up the drama.
The overall production style depends much on Isabella van Braeckel’s costume designs.
Each actor wears a white shirt and black breeches, assuming a suitable top layer for each character, but without that an anonymous minor character or an aspect of Hamlet’s psyche or part of an otherworldly chorus.
The production begins with a rather overcrowded battlements scene, with lines of dialogue passed between six or seven actors wrapped in drab cloaks and with little bursts of choral speaking, very clever, but lacking the terror expected of the ghost scene.
Purists will object to the splitting of lines in Hamlet’s soliloquies between various actors prompting or questioning the Prince, but it works well at times while doing nothing for the complexity of Hamlet’s character.
Another innovation which could add insight, but doesn’t, is the cross-gender casting.
Both Horatio and Rosencrantz are played by women, but director Max Lewedel seems uncertain whether they are male characters played by women or actually female characters.
By the interval Will Harrison-Wallace’s believable Claudius is firmly established as rational and political rather than evilly scheming; Robert Harris-Hughes has proved a tetchy Polonius with little of the humour of the character; Nicholas Limm’s Hamlet is more plaintive than noble or indecisive though beginning to establish his princely credentials; the others have barely registered.
The key scene between Hamlet and Gertrude (Portia Booroff) played straight though heavily cut, finally brings real character interaction and the performances of Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius and Ophelia (Kerry Gooderson) all gain conviction in the second half.
Finally the strength and weakness of physical theatre show in the last scene: the Hamlet-Laertes duel is exceptionally well handled, but is followed by a bloodbath of unnecessary murders, giving a final count of living characters as one – who is contemplating suicide!