Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 8th November 2013
A considered character exploration opens the CTW programme, written by co-directors Lynne and Mick Foster, analysing Hamlet's place as a literary "hero". Should we be taken in by his intelligent and profound speeches, or see past them to the terrible actions we witness him perform? Should we be influenced by Hamlet's twisted opinion of the other characters around him, or judge them by their own conduct? An interesting take, and one that cleverly opens the way for thought-provoking direction to engage those with prior experience of this epic work, but does not clutter or confuse the story for those approaching the play for the first time. Similarly the cuts made to the script, drawing the usually 3 1/2 hour piece to a close at a reasonable 10.30, were made with care and retained the key elements to the plot with distinctness.
Barry Taylor's young Prince Hamlet is given a melancholy characterisation, exploring the directors' interpretation with a particularly nasty portrayal, especially in his chilling treatment of both Ophelia and Gertrude. His madness remains subtle, more of a consistent depression, and his delivery is relaxed and instinctive with an engaging style. In a supporting ensemble cast of mixed experience there are some standout performances. Beth Crozier gives a compellingly regal interpretation of Gertrude with particularly impassioned reactions to Ophelia's tragic demise. Her new husband Claudius is played by Simon Burrell with conviction and although his posture could be more majestic his delivery is clear and engaging. Sarah Bell's Ophelia is very gentle, quietly done her descent is all the more intense for it's calmness and a pin can be heard drop during her singing scene. Christian Search is assured in his performance of Horatio, and Robin Mahr holds his own as Laertes with particular commendation for the well executed swordplay. A strong couple of cameos too by Jim Crozier as the ghostly old Hamlet, and Robin Winder as the garrulous gravedigger.
The set is uncluttered with black walls and simple candles serving for all of the rooms of Elsinore. Although having the audience set in the round allows for more acting space for the numerous cast, a lot of time is spent on or near the stage generating a crick in the neck for those with a side view. Where the space was used fully it was particularly effective, especially the final death scene.
A fluent and accessible version performed smoothly with moments of quiet intensity. The hand of the directors can be felt throughout, generating interest for audiences both familiar and new to one of Shakespeare's most famous and influential plays.