I was pretty excited before seeing this performance. Not only had I previously never seen anything by the National Youth Theatre, the fact that people online were raving on about how it had had a sold out run before, made me energised to go see the teens in action. However, when I did arrive at the theatre, the chick at the box office said they were having a “quiet day,” and that we could therefore sit in the stalls. There were 25 or so people in the audience. Maybe everyone had seen it already?
The play itself is set as a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, focussing on the young characters’ teenage years. Laertes (Simon Lennon) is annoyed that his sister Ophelia (Daisy Whalley) has been writing letters to Hamlet (James Hunter), and is worried she will start to fall for the young prince. While this is going on, Hamlet is struggling to cope with his father’s decision to send him to Wittenberg.
The story was great, the younger versions of the characters were great, and their playfulness and not-so-damaged-yet personas worked well in the moment the play captures. The play works especially well for the audience members who know Hamlet, and I particularly enjoyed the subtle allusions to Shakespeare’s play, like when Ophelia looks into her reflection in the river and says the water makes it seem like she is drowning. I think the play text worked better for me, more than the actors delivering it. Apart from a select few, the cast seemed as though they did not really want to be there. To be honest, I would feel the same if was on stage and the first three rows of the auditorium were completely empty.
But the actors that did seem to be enjoying themselves performed very well. In particular, Louisa Beadel’s Guildenstern brought much needed character to the stage. Her cheekiness was very enjoyable to watch, and the fact that writer Michael Lesslie had combined Elizabethan Language with modern elements the audience could relate to, allowed Beadel to quickly gain the spectators’ attention. Plus I do always have a soft spot for any young girl who can portray a male character as well as a man could.
I see where director Anthony Banks in coming from, and I did enjoy the overall spectacle. The Grecian horse on stage did look pretty cool, the ensemble worked well together to perform a play for Hamlet’s Court, and the candlelight at the start of the play created an eerie yet intriguing setting. But overall, maybe the youths thundering at this playhouse need more work?