I’m back on the Bard, and this time it’s ACS Random’s Hamlet. The company have been performing Shakespeare’s work since 2011, aiming to make accessible shows for modern audiences. In this adaptation, director Andrew Shepherd has successfully created a very enjoyable Hamlet, which has a running time of just over 2 hours, including the interval! Any company who can achieve that is worth a lot of praise in my opinion.
Set during the Victorian period, the play opens with a seance, and a ghost is summoned onto the stage. We find out that one of those involved in the seance is Horatio (Andrew Venning), who sends word to his friend Hamlet (Jack Baldwin) to tell him he has seen the ghost of his dead father. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Kate Terence) has now married his uncle Claudius (Alexander Nash), who has replaced his father as the King of Denmark. Hamlet is then visited by his father’s ghost who tells him that it was in fact his uncle who killed him in order to take the throne. Hamlet then proceeds to avenge his father’s death, which leads to a very tragic ending to the play.
The cast were brilliant to watch on stage. Baldwin has perfectly captured the title character’s madness, and I especially liked his interactions with Terence’s Gertrude. It’s always interesting to see what actors do with the complex mother-son relationship in the play, and the two handle this portrayal very well. Terence does have a likability as Gertrude, which is very difficult to achieve in my opinion so props to her! Also I really enjoyed watching Venning as Horatio, who brought warmth to the stage as one of my favourite Shakespeare characters.
Shepherd’s Victorian adaptation works very well in numerous ways. Firstly, the supernatural elements of the play suits the era perfectly. Beginning the play with a seance which prompted the appearance of the dead king’s ghost was very well thought out. Secondly, Ophelia’s madness also fits into the period well, where a lot of strange ideas were written about women and insanity. These element of the play definitely made it a Victorian Christmas ghost story.
However, one thing that I am still not sure about in the play is the characterisation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were both portrayed as prostitutes. I feel quite conflicted about this. I can’t decide if it was a great choice because it conforms to the Victorian theme. Or if it was a bad choice because they are women who are killed off for betraying the male title character, and them being prostitutes justifies this. I just can’t decide on this one this time. I might have to see it again to make my mind up.
One final thing I want to say is that I absolutely loved all the ghostly events. The dead King’s ghost (performed amazingly by Christ Huntly-Turner) looked like it had come out of one of the paintings used in the performance. The set design by Zahra Mansouri was perfect, and the way it was incorporated into the play to portray the supernatural occurrences was superb. My advice is to go and see the play, because it is a great adaptation that brings together two historical time periods in an interesting and clever way. And that running time? It really was like Christmas.