It Was Not To Be - Open Air Hamlet In Covent Garden

Hamlet, St Paul's Church ★★☆☆☆

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It Was Not To Be - Open Air Hamlet In Covent Garden Hamlet, St Paul's Church 2

There's a ghost on the loose at St Paul's in Covent Garden, and it's not Noel Coward, Charlie Chapin or Terence Rattigan (all of whom are buried there). Iris Theatre have taken over the building and its churchyard to put on a production of Hamlet. It's a treat in prospect to see one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies in an outdoor summer setting — that treatment is usually reserved for Midsummer Night's Dream and other comedies.

But our hopes quickly fade, even if the roses that sweeten the night do not. Director Daniel Winder's production is set in a 'near-future dictatorship', inhabitants of Elisnore wear hoods and screens flash with TV broadcasts of Claudius and his new bride. The natural setting doesn't need the paraphernalia, although that's not the biggest issue in this misguided production. Instead Hamlet is the problem.

Hamlet's cool and glum exterior becomes an interior question of identity. Jenet Le Lacheur's Hamlet takes off his/her black shirt to reveal spaghetti straps and is embraced as 'my lady' by Horatio. But like anyone droning on about themselves, this introspectiveness is wearing. There's no sense that this Hamlet gives a damn about Ophelia or Gertrude and her affair, the chemistry between them is non-existent. The bard's imagery is all about the poisons and persuasions that are poured into ears, but the famous soliloquies are screeched out at points.

That's not to say there aren't things to recommend in this production. The promenade feel in particular stands out. Moving in among the spaces every few scenes or so kept things fresh. There are some top notch performances from Claudius (Vinta Morgan) Polonius (Paula James), and Horatio (Harold Addo). Iris Theatre is light-hearted and generous to its audience, for who it clearly has pulled out all the stops to entertain. From the rave dancing scene to the ghost of Hamlet's father — an enjoyably repulsive creature who skulked past the rose bushes.

It promised a lovely evening, but if to be or not to be is indeed the question, it sadly is not.

Hamlet, St Paul's Church, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9ED, £20. Until 27 July.

Last Updated 28 June 2019