Preview: Hamlet

Stage

It’s a big ask to pull off a play like Hamlet, which is so unavoidably iconic. In director James Watt’s capable hands, however, and thanks to an electric cast, Poor Player Productions’s take on Shakespeare’s classic promises to be one of the most exciting productions of the term.

There is no room for slack in the tightly wrought production. In an incredibly atmospheric opening scene lit primarily by torchlight, the cast establish the sense of urgency which energizes Hamlet as a whole, and the scenes that follow do not drop from this level of intensity. In no way has the production resorted to gimmicks to differentiate this Hamlet, and the whole thing is markedly unpretentious, letting the play really speak for itself. What’s on the page is brought out with incredibly taut acting and directing, and the whole thing is charged with a careful, quivering energy.

The design of the play promises to be similarly effective: ‘The set’s aim is to establish Elsinore as a world of decay,’ James Watt says. ‘The play is obsessed with ideas of death and disintegration and we wanted to really capture that in the aesthetic. There’s a whole host of really cool technical work going into our Hamlet that will make it incredibly visually striking.’ I was also able to catch slivers of Stephen Hyde’s incredible original soundtrack for the production, ominous and unsettling, which helps the scenes to echo with, again, a dark urgency. Developed alongside the rehearsal process, the score, as James says, ‘adds a very filmic quality that really works to drive the pace along.’

Indeed, there is a hard-edged precision to every element in play here. The cast are, without exception, quiveringly poised. Hamlet promises to showcase some stunning performances, particularly for Ieuan Perkins, who is to take on the eponymous role. His Hamlet is at once tense, sharp and vulnerable, and the preview leaves no doubt that he will bring a virtuosic complexity to his Hamlet. Clemi Collet’s female Horatio is similarly compellingly watchable. But there is not a weak link here. The cast have a natural ease with difficult verse, and nowhere are things overdone. Nor do they relent: as Hamlet should be, the play feels constantly on the edge of something.

If the cast can maintain this carefully fitful energy, this Hamlet will prove wholeheartedly to live up to James Watt’s hopes for the play: ‘What ultimately I want our Hamlet to be is a full-blooded, striking piece of theatre, with central performances that really explore some of theatre’s most difficult characters. It should be visceral and impactful, and hopefully something that really strikes people emotionally’. Already struck, I look forward to fourth week, and a brooding Hamlet which will suit the darkening November days.

Keble O’Reilly, 4th Week Michaelmas 2015