Without banging on about it too much, William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ is pretty much the crowning literary work of the entire English language and a bloody hard play to stage. So the fringe theatre company that takes it on is either really stupid or really brave. On balance, I’d say rep troupe The Faction fall into the latter camp.
Over the last couple of years The Faction have made a serious splash with their seasons at the New Diorama Theatre: if they want to do ‘Hamlet’ then they’ve earned it.
Mark Leipacher’s bare bones production was never going to be a ‘great’ ‘Hamlet’. But it is interesting, most notably for its very special guest cameo: a digital recording of the mighty Simon Russell Beale (I call him CGImon Russell Beale) playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father. It’s a small part, but a massive coup, and though you inevitably wish there was more of him, Beale is typically brilliant, all understated intensity. The projection works well, and it feels like a generous gesture of patronage and passing on of the torch.
Elsewhere, the most striking aspect of the production is a semi-reversal of the roles of Hamlet (Jonny McPherson) and his stepfather Claudius (Damian Lynch). While there’s no suggestion that Claudius is an innocent, he seems like a warm, gifted, genuine politician who only has blood on his hands because he desperately wants to keep the hopeless kingdom of Elsinore together. McPherson’s Hamlet, by contrast, is a weird, sneering narcissist with all the common touch of George Osborne: no wonder Claudius had to step in.
Ultimately there’s not enough psychological rigour applied to really make this work, and the fact we don’t really give a toss if Hamlet dies or not means the second half is less thrilling than it really should be. But there are enough ideas here to justify the endeavour. ‘Hamlet’ belongs to all of us, not just A-list actors looking to show off.
By Andrzej Lukowski