Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – until 11 May 2019
Guest reviewer: Ciaran Ward
In 2019, a gendered reimagining of Hamlet is no longer unprecedented territory within Manchester theatre: following Maxine Peake’s esteemed portrayal of the tragic hero in Sarah Frankcom’s 2014 production, such a concept has been firmly embedded within the public consciousness. As such, GirlGang Manchester and Unseemly Women’s all-female production does not feel particularly revolutionary. Wisely avoiding the complexities of gender swapping all the play’s characters, Kayleigh Hawkin’s direction is free to navigate and interpret the tragedy in this authentic and invigorating production.
Eve Shotton mesmerises the entire audience in her captivating performance as Hamlet; she glides effortlessly between the comedic inconstancy and the indignant ferocity that the role naturally demands. The dramatic fervour of her performance is consolidated by a strong supporting cast: the disturbed Ophelia (Maryam Ali), valiant Horatio (Sophie Giddens) and resolute Laertes (Zoey Barnes) all help to untap the play’s dramatic potential. Also worthy of note is Amy Gavin (Clown 1) who deftly sustains an impertinent bravado throughout the Gravediggers’ scene.
For those who are familiar with the layout of Hope Mill Theatre, the confined space of the stage could be seen as a hindrance for a production like Hamlet, given the intense action that takes place throughout the runtime. The production is conscious in its use – and lack of – space, with movement director Tilda O’Grady envisaging this problem and utilising the somewhat cramped space to her advantage. Placing characters in close proximity to each other during heated discussions and directing an increasingly erratic Hamlet to push herself into other character’s faces, emphasises the tense and provocative atmosphere that swiftly develops within the Danish court.
Though the gender of the performers does not have a significant impact upon the play, some performances in the first half do feel somewhat forced, with male characters often displaying overtly masculine mannerisms (such as manspreading when seated and gripping other male characters in a bear hug). Here, the production suffers through an almost pantomimic exaggeration where a more neutral performance would have sufficed. Thankfully, these issues became less pronounced in the second half, with the actors delivering a more comfortable and natural performance after the interval.
Discounting moments in between scenes where characters unnecessarily stride across the stage to the rhythm of Eliyana Evans’ incongruous sound design, this production of Hamlet asserts itself as the authentic, entertaining and thrilling rendition that it consciously aims to be.
Hamlet runs at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 11 May 2019.
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