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Hamlet - Huntsman Theatre Company - Review by Heather Gibb

Huntsman Theatre Company’s first production is a bold choice for a debut: a 3 hour Shakespeare tragedy is a big beast to tackle but they did it with both style and substance. Set in the roaring 20s, the production value is high for a small start-up company; from the sharp suits and glamourous dresses to the vintage tables and authentic props, and just enough set to create depth on stage and set the scene for each location.

The casting and direction cannot be faulted, as each actor throws themselves into their respective roles with enthusiasm, and draws out a unique perspective on their character just as the director has drawn out the best performance from each of them. Gabriel Geoffrey Thorpe is a powerful, self-assured king, setting himself up as a force to be reckoned with in the first act, only to surprise us with vulnerability in the second act. Gabriel commands the stage, whether literally holding court or praying for forgiveness in solitude. Behind every powerful man is a strong woman, and that certainly holds true for Sabrina Senior as the most relatable Gertrude. Her reactions and background moments are just as strong as her moments in the spotlight, bringing humour and truth to the melodrama going on around her. Her comedic timing and hilarious facial expressions contrast perfectly with the brutal physical moments in the second act, which are well choreographed and believably traumatic for poor Gertrude.

Laertes, Ophelia and Polonius present a clear traditional family dynamic, one of protectiveness over Ophelia and pride between the men. Jonathan Hurd’s Polonius is a bumbling and overbearing father figure, bringing comedy and character to his scenes and delivering his lines with wit. Kyle Baker’s brief appearance in act one as Laertes is imposing and leaves a lasting impression on the audience and as well as on Katie Bott’s Ophelia. His return in act two is explosive, as his character is allowed no time to process his family’s demise and his rage, though powerful, is easily manipulated by Gabriel’s Claudius. Katie plays an endearing Ophelia, clearly desperate for guidance but with the family pride that gives her a fierceness in the face of Hamlet’s confusing attentions. Her change in appearance and demeanour after the death of her father somehow happen both slowly and all at once, as she loses her mind to grief in a truly moving performance in act two. The protectiveness of Sabrina’s Gertrude is felt by the audience as Katie appears truly childlike in moments, let down by those with the power to truly protect her.

Callan Swain and Grace Halton are an impatient and exasperated Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, sharing funny little moments and vivid facial expressions between themselves as their frustration grows in being left behind by Hamlet’s sharp wit. By contrast El Madeira's Horatio has all the time in the world for Hamlet; sharing in his sorrow and laughing with him, she is loyal to a fault and clearly cares so much but is powerless to his determination to self-destruct. It is her that the audience mourns with and for at the end as she sobs over her friend.

As the title role, Andrew Wilkinson is an engaging Hamlet with great stage presence. His monologues and moments alone on stage are enthralling as he struggles with his grief and desire for revenge with a self-awareness that appears to be a burden. His character’s half-faked spiral into madness is both believable and unnerving, as he swings between melancholic reflection and manic outbursts. The violence he displays in act two is shocking and disturbing to witness, as is his callousness towards Ophelia; the audience’s sympathy for his character may begin to slip but he maintains his hold on our attention until his last breath.

The ensemble cast show off their versatility as they deftly multi-role the smaller characters. Anthony Garbett is appropriately happy-go-lucky as the harmless but jarringly chipper gravedigger, while Andrew King as the acting troupe leader does a good job of overacting just enough for the play-within-a-play scenes. The soldiers are all believably spooked by the spectre in act one and the dialogue between them all flows well.

The whole cast tackle Shakespeare with ease and clarity, ensuring that every scene is engaging and varied in tone. Matthew Carroll’s direction does such a good job of bringing out the light hearted and more farcical elements of the characters and plot that the audience might almost forget that it all ends in tragedy.

by Heather Gibb

EDI Officer

Butter Side Up Theatre Company

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