Shakespeare’s longest play is hacked to 90 minutes in this unfathomable vehicle for the Brandreth family
‘They shat on my “Hamlet” from a great height. They’ll probably shit on yours,’ comments Steven Berkoff, accurately, in the programme notes to this baffling production of Shakespeare’s greatest play.
The Park Theatre's ‘Hamlet’ is a vehicle for the talents of the Brandreth family: polymath personality Gyles Brandreth, his son Benet (a lawyer, rhetoric coach and novelist), and his daughter-in-law Kosha Engler (an American actor). That’s it: the trio play each of the characters retained for this absurd 90-minute edit of a play that usually runs a good two hours longer.
Why? Like Shakespeare’s ennui-wracked Danish prince, I have absolutely no idea why. Brandreth Snr’s programme notes talk about the production being ‘an exploration’, but that doesn't explain why they've binned most of the play.
Is it a technical exercise? Is it a sort of greatest hits version of the play that cuts it down to the biggest speeches? Is it meant to be a bold and radical rewrite? Is the brevity simply necessitated by the fact that there are only three of them? I. Don’t. Knooooooow.
I mean look: ‘Hamlet’ is a long play. That’s a fact. Unexpurgated it’s about four-and-a-half hours long, which almost nobody does. But people know that you’re pretty much talking about three-and-a-half hours. It seems almost beyond comprehension that the Brandreth clan genuinely think it’s just as good with 2/3 hacked out. This whole enterprise is so remarkably eccentric that I’m tempted to give it a fractionally higher mark just for the lols until I remember Robert Icke and Andrew Scott’s current West End production, which is to this what ‘Citizen Kane’ is to a video I recently made on my phone of my son running around in a circle.
It’s difficult to know what grounds to assess it on. The posh kitchen set, by Polly Sullivan is nice, though it opens up more questions about Simon Evans and David Aula’s modern dress production. It looks for a few minutes like ‘Hamlet’ has been boiled down to a three-character domestic psychodrama in which the only real characters are the prince and his parents, which is actually kind of interesting. But it’s not borne out by what actually happens: the trio are clearly playing multiple characters; it comes across as a reasonably slick but totally emotionally incoherent exercise in compaction. There are a couple of zany ideas that might be interesting to grapple with in a ‘proper’ production of the play – notably amalgamating Laertes and Ophelia – but here it all feels like it exists in the service of extreme editing.
The acting is a little old school but perfectly fine – the fatal flaw here is the conception, not the execution. In a world in which full-length versions of ‘Hamlet’ are staged almost constantly, I can’t for the life of me work out why you’d possibly want to watch this, friends of the Brandreths excepted.