If you found the all star Christmas BBC Hamlet a bit, well, yawn then there’s a production you should check out in Old Street. You might think you know Hamlet, indeed, it’s probably best you have a working knowledge of the story but this show, Tower Hamlet, mixes things up good and proper.
Set in the East End borough and drawing on local history this Hamlet uses five different kinds of theatre. Five different groups of actors interpret scenes using different methods. We open with ‘traditional British Shakespeare’ but with a bit of East London street speak wrapped around Shakespeare’s atmospheric ghost watching. Then we’re at court with a Stanislavski group. Confusingly the Queen has what might be an authentic Danish accent and our Hamlet is a more slender David Tennant, but quite a lot better. Then over at Polonius’ house, Ophelia is a handsome, camp Spanish man in a leotard, bouncing around coquettishly then bullied by his/her father, a female actor playing a fearsome Marlon Brando, playing Polonius. Stay with us.
When Hamlet sees the ghost, he’s embodied by an incredibly talented female mime, conveying his fear, horror and fascination through her movement across the stage and when the Ghost speaks it’s with a group of Grotowski actors in white, heavy on the melodrama, and theatrical movement and filled with spiritual dread.
Labelled “research theatre” the production is a public arts education initiative for Tower Hamlets. The production plays with Shakespeare and Hamlet through history. After all, there is no definitive text, gender has always been fluid, interpretations and meaning alter through time. So here we have many Hamlets and Ophelias of both sexes, speaking the original verse beside modern sections. The art of acting is made explicit without intruding on the enjoyment and even enhances the story you think you know. Are we in a political drama, a spiritual or psychological crisis, a surrealist tragedy or soap opera? Whatever, it’s tremendous fun, interesting and intriguing. And you have to see the ‘play within a play’ done with little plushy toys.
Tower Hamlet is at the Courtyard Theatre, Old Street until 21st February 2010 – 7.30pm. To reserve tickets please email: firstname.lastname@example.org with the number of tickets required and date. £12, £10 conc