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Hamlet, Review

Paul Clarke finds a Northern Ballet production with balls

Written by . Published on September 13th 2011.


Hamlet, Review

THIS was billed as a 'big boy's ballet' - and the provocative production set in Nazi occupied Paris is certainly in your face.

Thankfully, Northern Ballet are not in the business of just wheeling out tiresome shock tactics - this is a ballet with brains as well as balls. 

"It's pretty much wall to wall misery in the second half, as Hamlet goes mad in a slightly bonkers banquet scene."

It's a production that tells the story through some beautifully expressive dancing by both principals and the company have clearly benefited from extra acting lessons.

From the moment the pale-faced and confused Hamlet - well played in a energetic performance byTobias Batley - wanders onto the stage the audience is at the heart of a city riven by fear as Jewish Parisians are assaulted by strutting SS officers who use sharp steps to emphasise their lack of conscience. 

He soon discovers his mother Gertrude has married his calculating uncle Claudius who - as well as colluding with the Nazis - also signed his father's death warrant.

Staging the production in this period pays off as there is still a visceral surge of disgust when huge swastika banners unfurl, and the troubled times suit the themes of the lust for power and betrayal, which lie at the dark heart of the original text. 

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There is some light relief when Hamlet meets Ophelia again, and the sheer joy of their reunion is captured in an exquisite pas de deux across the bleakly lit stage.

A special mention must go to a quite magnificent score by Philip Feeney, which captures the brooding misery of a betrayed prince trying to make sense of a chaotic world. 

It's pretty much wall to wall misery in the second half, as Hamlet goes mad in a slightly bonkers banquet scene, before confronting his mother in an incredibly disturbing and powerfully choreographed duet. 

Victoria Sibson uses her vast experience, not only to match her younger partner step for step, but is by far the best actor on show too, capturing Gertrude's impossible choice between self preservation and saving her son.

The best is almost last as we descend in a full blooded Shakespearean bloodbath. Ophelia's father has been murdered and she is raped by three Nazi thugs in a brutal scene driving her insane. 

She then invades a ball hosted by Claudius, manically giving out swastika flags. In the hands of a less skillful performer than Georgina May, this deranged dance would have been embarrassing, but she pulled it off perfectly, getting to the heart of what the steps meant for the doomed Ophelia.

But this is not some testosterone drenched romp. It is a cleverly choreographed production replete with top flight dancers who have really grasped the text, and use their bodies to tell a complex classic simply.

If you want Sugar Plum fairies, don't waste your money on this; but if you're a thinking ballet fan, you'd be a mug to miss it. 

But get move on - it closes on Saturday.

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Simon BinnsSeptember 15th 2011.

I saw this the other night and thought it was a really brave and well executed production.

It was my first time at a ballet production too. Eye opening stuff.

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