It is extremely difficult to live up to the hype of a Shakespeare play – that is one thing to be said for the cast and crew of this week’s Nordic Noir version of Hamlet. I had my reservations about the play: there is beauty in bringing it back to basics and keeping traditional plays traditional, as with Mermaids production of The Importance of Being Earnest earlier in the academic year which was a huge success. People are always trying to be original with Shakespeare, but sometimes this originality contributes nothing and leads to inaccuracies and misinterpretations. However, this attempt at an original depiction of Hamlet was amongst the more successful of traditional plays with modern twists.
Visually, the production excelled. The setting was minimalist and bold with striking colour contrast and lighting depending on the type of character being portrayed. It was not only the setting that was visually impressive, but the sound effects and music were also very striking, appropriate and haunting.
However, they were at points too loud; it was particularly difficult to hear Jack Briggs (Hamlet) and David Trimble (Polonius) over the effects. The setting only faltered in that the set changes were long, contributing to an already long play, which I am aware was a problem for some people. One thing is for sure and it is that this play is for the more patient among us.
Some of the scenes missing from the play suggested the director (Mathilde Johnsen) was depending on the audience already knowing the play well in order to understand the story. The initial scene with the guards witnessing the ghost of Hamlet’s father was missing in order to allow for Hamlet to embody both himself and his father, but such a crucial moment really sets the scene for the play. The famous moment in the graveyard where Hamlet holds Yorick’s skull was also missing, and musings such as these help the audience to sympathise with the protagonist, which is a fundamental element to the play. Due to these absent scenes, there was no connection between Hamlet and the audience, which in turn gave an inaccurate representation of his character. An important dimension of Hamlet is the protagonist’s struggle with morality, something that should have been incorporated into the play in order for the audience to relate to Hamlet. The absence of Hamlet’s sr. also meant that Hamlet’s madness was over-exaggerated, and was at points portrayed ungracefully. Other tweaks had a detrimental effect on the play, such as Hamlet’s descent into madness almost being reversed so he starts off mad and by the end, after Ophelia’s suicide, is more rational. This was the main problem with the play.
Nevertheless, credit must be given to Briggs for the massive role he took on – he generally performed well and did convey Hamlet’s madness acutely. But the stand-out performances of the night must go to Claudius (Ebe Bamgboye), Gertrude (Cara Mahoney) and Ophelia (Kate Kitchens).
Bamgboye brought the Shakesperean magic to the stage one expects from such a production. He was completely natural on stage and professional at all times. His on stage relationship with Mahoney was believable as they gracefully glided across the stage with an air of elegance and sophistication. Mahoney is a true beauty whose accent and demeanour was perfect for her role.
Moreover, it is the consensus that Kitchens excelled herself with her performance of Ophelia. Her portrayal of Ophelia’s descent into madness and eventual suicide was by the far the most atmospheric and moving moments of the play. The music (a haunting voice was accompanied by a solo piano) also contributed extremely well to these sections in setting the atmosphere.
Hamlet was overall a very intelligent and well thought out interpretation of the play, even if I do have personal reservations about modern interpretations. However, it is the strong performances from those mentioned above and the striking visualisation that transports this play from a good production to a great one.