Review: Hamlet (Lazarus Theatre Company)

In their latest theatre production, Lazarus Theatre Company tackle Hamlet, but not necessarily at you have seen it before.

Not only has the text been chopped to 95 minutes, but it has also been moved around, repurposed, and adapted. The last production I saw that really attempted this was the RSC’s version in 1997.

Under Ricky Dukes’s direction, the small cast tackles this most tragic of Shakespeare’s plays. Hamlet has been tackled in many different ways before, with twins playing the Dane and various examples of gender and age-blind casting.

There is no period costume; everyone is dressed the same in blue tops and comfortable slacks. I find this production interesting to compare with Frantic Assembly’s Othello, which gave that play a modern gangland setting.

Production image of Hamlet

The decision to remove all the adults is a very interesting one in this Hamlet, leaving the story purely through the viewpoint of the young characters. So, no Polonius, Claudius, or Gertrude.

Michael Hawkey takes the lead role and comes across as both a petulant teenager and a disturbed avenger. His interplay with Alex Zur’s Horatio and Lexine Lee’s Ophelia explores a new understanding of their scenes.

This is a show that constantly takes risks, as companies should do with the Bard. It doesn’t always work, but there is technical brilliance here with multiple shadowy scenes and a disturbing soundscape.

Something is rotten here, indeed. Utilising video work, disembodied voices and chants, and the exploration of the play from within the ‘safe space’ introduced at the start, this gives Hamlet a new purpose and energy.

Lazarus are to be applauded for giving so many young players their professional start and to give them the freedom to explore such a core text.

Production photo of Hamlet

Truncating such a weighty play – it can run four hours without cuts – to just over an hour and a half loses a lot in motive, characterisation, and intent, but leaves enough to entrance the audience.

As a digital production, there are numerous moments of just torchlight and voices, which gives a sense of the absurd and dangerous world Hamlet and his friends find themselves in.

This is a Hamlet which has some moments that work well – I am glad the Players made the cut with such a King as Kalifa Taylor – but I missed the fussy ramblings of Polonius and the complexity of Hamlet’s mother.

Hamlet streamed on 9 Feb from a January recording at Southwark Playhouse Borough. You can still purchase tickets here.

***

Image credit: Charles Flint