Park Theatre, London – until 16 September 2017
This family orientated interpretation of Shakespeare’s play is an interesting concept but lacks depth and characterisation.
A ninety-minute Hamlet plus a cast formed of three members of the same family makes for an intriguing prospect, suggesting a fresh and lively new interpretation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work, coming across as a selection of the best speeches from the play stitched together as opposed to offering a new insight to the play’s hidden layers.
Set in a country-style kitchen (why not when the heart of any family conversation and discord takes place in the kitchen?), Hamlet’s descent into madness and revenge happens almost too quickly without paying any real attention to character development or motivations for the actions of the characters.
By using a cast of three it can also make it confusing to keep up with who is what character – such as when Laertes(Kosha Engler) is told of Ophelia’s death (also Kosha Engler) it can be confusing as the speech moves from one character’s perspective to another – no matter how smoothly it is done.
Yet, there is no denying the sense of family drama and the complicated family relationships are really highlighted in the production, of course heightened by the fact all of the cast are related – all delivering intense performances that draw out the drama of Shakespeare’s language.
But there is no escaping the fact that while the production fits in nicely to the Park90 space, it still feels slightly ambitious to narrow an intensely psychological play with a huge number of characters into ninety minutes and to keep the audience gripped until the very end. Yes, many of the speeches are brilliant but without the context it can become slightly lost in its ambition and makes some important moments such as when Ophelia attempts to return the love tokens that Hamlet gave her – it just lacks impact to be convincing.
It has to be said that Benet Brandreth as Hamlet really showcases his knowledge of Shakespeare’s language and characters, delivering an almost sympathetic portrayal that offers an interesting new perspective. Meanwhile, Kosha Engler is a mesmerising Ophelia – particularly when it is clear she has lost her mind in grief, switching moods effectively and keeps the audience on their toes. Gyles Brandreth is more in the background, but provides ample support to the other characters in a range of roles. But given Imogen Bond’s adaptation there is no real character development to make the performances completely satisfying.
It is a pity that while all of the key speeches and moments are kept the sacrifice of the build up and solid characterisation which can affect the audience’s concentration and engagement with the production. Good potential for a new interpretation but sadly doesn’t quite pull it all together.