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Hamlet, West Yorkshire Playhouse, review

Paul Clarke sees a production that sticks two fingers up to London luvvies

Written by . Published on April 21st 2011.


Hamlet, West Yorkshire Playhouse, review

Hamlet2.jpgAS A Northern Broadsides virgin I was interested to see if Hamlet delivered in local accents, rather than the RP tyranny we normally expect from RADA trained luvvies would work.

The answer on the basis of this decidedly uneven production is yes, but just about.
 
Hamlet is the usual Shakespearean mix of court intrigue, teen angst, murder, ghosts, incest and unrequited love with his delicious verse delivered proudly in Northern accents. Director Conrad Nelson has decided to stage his version in the late 1940s to capture the cold war paranoia that he sees reflected in the text. 

 So we have actors in Soviet style costumes, a stark stage and the traditional songs delivered by a well drilled big band formed by the cast, which is an interesting idea but one that sadly falls flat on its face. 

Nelson is also hinting at the rise of the Angry Young Men in the staging which makes the leather jacket clad Shaw’s choice to play Hamlet as an overwrought Danny Zuko rather than Jimmy Porter a bit odd

The other big problem is Nicholas Shaw’s unconvincing turn as Hamlet. He lacks the physical presence to dominate the stage or the intensity required to capture Hamlet’s descent into madness. The scene where he is fishing in a daft yellow hat whilst in the quiet grip of insanity is meant to be amusing but is just embarrassing - as much the fault of the director as the actor.

Hamlet3.jpg

Nelson is alsohinting at the rise of the Angry Young Men in the staging which makes the leather jacket clad Shaw’s choice to play Hamlet as an overwrought Danny Zuko rather than Jimmy Porter a bit odd.

 
Thankfully Shaw does raise his game in some brutal scenes with Ophelia, well played by Natalie Dew, who is the star of this show. Hamlet’s anger at his incestuous mother Gertrude is utterly convincing although I was slightly disconcerted to see she was played by Becky Hindley, who was last seen getting bumped off by Corrie’s John Snape.

I did have visions of the Ted Bundy of Weatherfield wandering on with a hammer, but thankfully Becky’s spellbinding performance banished that thought.
 
Sterling support comes the marvellously-named Fine Time Fontayne, who captures the moral vacuum that is Claudius, who murdered Hamlet’s father to take the Danish throne and the veteran Richard Evans as Polonois, father of the doomed Ophelia.
 
An uneven central performance and some too-clever-by-half-ideas shouldn’t deter you going to see this because as a whole, it's a decent stab at what is always a tough play to get right. Plus, it is our moral duty as Northerners to support any company prepared to stick two fingers up to the London luvvies.
 
* Hamlet runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until April 30.

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