Review: ‘Hamlet’ by Shakespeare Society

After having the pleasure of being invited to review Shakespeare Society’s production of Doctor Faustus earlier this year, I was incredibly pleased to see that their latest production of Hamlet was up for review. I leapt at the opportunity, and can quite happily say that, while something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, there was nothing rotten about this wonderful performance!

For Razz readers who are unfamiliar with the plot of Hamlet, the play follows the melancholy prince of Denmark who, after the death of his beloved father and King, is haunted by his spirit. Upon discovering that his father was in fact murdered by none other than Claudius, the King’s own brother and Hamlet’s uncle, the young prince seeks revenge; but how can this chaotic situation end in anything other than tragedy?

I must say I was surprised to hear that ShakeSoc’s rendition of the classic Renaissance tragedy (directed by Patrick Swain and assistant directed by Gemma Humfress) was to be set in Exeter University’s own Lemon Grove, and eagerly anticipated discovering how they would transform our beloved student bar into a convincing setting for the play. Once again, ShakeSoc didn’t fail to impress: the staging was excellently thought-out, with mirrors and shards of glass glistening from makeshift walls, the audience was encouraged to immediately acknowledge the shattered consciences of the characters they were about to witness. Another spectacular element of production for this performance was the large screen at the rear of the stage, onto which an ominous, flickering image of King Hamlet’s ghost was projected; along with the spooky blue lighting, this was very effective at capturing the ghostly aura that a haunting spirit should emit. The team behind the performance did an amazing job of making such a foreboding atmosphere in Exeter’s Lemon Grove!

While all of the actors did a fantastic job at portraying their characters, my personal favourite was Finn O’Riordain, who portrayed the play’s titular character. His expressions during his monologues were perfectly terrifying and the way in which he made eye contact with the audience during his challenging monologues about life, death and revenge were thoroughly chilling. This invigorating sense of terror from the protagonist was exacerbated by the outstanding choice of costume, which was particularly poignant during one of the final scenes of the play in which Hamlet and Laertes (Cam Scriven) are preparing to duel. While O’Riordain was clad all in black with dark makeup around his eyes, Scriven was in white, which brilliantly portrayed the way Hamlet had fallen into temptation and was slipping into madness in comparison with his peers.

The way the play was transformed in order to be more in touch with its modern audience, while still in-keeping with the traditional script, was exquisite. The dialogue remained, for the most part, entirely true to the way that Shakespeare had written it, but the setting itself was clearly more modern. This was depicted through the use of modern humour such as innuendo, and props such as replica guns. Furthermore, the use of rumbling drum and bass music in the background of some of the more intense and violent scenes of the performance not only created a creepy and unnerving vibe for members of the audience, but also turned a potentially overdone tragic play into something innovative and modern for all audiences to enjoy.

Again, I would say that the most impactful scene of the performance for me was the final one, in which Hamlet finally enacts his revenge on Claudius (Michael Hogg). The use of strobing, paired with all of the actors lying slumped in different areas of the stage, some covered in blood and some in wine, created a fittingly psychotic vision. As well as this, the final image, audiences were left with of Horatio (Georgina Brown) cradling Hamlet in his arms was thoroughly chilling; a spectacular finale to a spectacularly performed, produced and directed rendition of Hamlet.

Overall, I would give ShakeSoc’s performance of Hamlet a full five stars out of five: my love for a classic tragedy was fully satiated from viewing this play, as was the need for more modern adaptations to fit audiences in 2019. I would definitely recommend catching the performance at the Lemon Grove over the next few days!

ShakeSoc’s Hamlet is showing at the Lemon Grove on Tues 21st and Wed 22nd May, and will be touring to Stratford-Upon-Avon in late June. Buy your tickets here.

– Gemma Matthews

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