They’re not messing about, this lot. No sooner has the bizarre Wurzels-inflected folk band concluded their opening medley than Hamlet strides on stage with ‘To be or not to be…’ Less than two hours later the kingdom of Elsinore’s a charnel and it’s time to pack up your picnic. It’s this hutzpah and brevity that makes The Principal Theatre Company’s outdoor production such a breezy summer’s treat, and if it’s lacking the weight and solemnity usually afforded the Dane, it’s none the worse for it.
Sliced this close to the bone, the power play between Hamlet and his murderous uncle swells to eclipse everything else, and both roles are powerfully performed. Director Paul Gladwin revels in a hoggish, ‘Countryfile’ Claudius, and the young David Mildon is a hypnotic prince. There’s a pinch of Rory Kinnear in his sulky student whose madness is an explicit ruse, but Mildon finds more than enough to make the part his own.
There’s music aplenty, as Emily Mae Winters’s Ophelia plucks away at her guitar and liltingly serenades the midges, and a dissonant, creaking violin makes the players’ scene an ingenious highlight. It’s an ambitious play to run in rep (it alternates with ‘Comedy of Errors’ by the same company) and there are more than a few threadbare moments, but there’s still plenty to savour in this smartly abbreviated tragedy.
By Stewart Pringle
Capel Manor performances: Jun 13-22; Old Ashmolean: Jul 3-6; Coram's Fields Jul 12-Aug 3.