24 March 2012
Hamlet by the Creation Theatre Company

"Is the Creation Theatre’s Hamlet Really Mad or Only Pretending to Be?"

By: A review by Julia Gasper
Oscar Wilde once asked whether the critics of Hamlet were really mad or only pretending to be. The same might be asked of this zany, wayward production of the Bard’s great tragedy. I have seen several other productions lately, (including the outstanding one at Stratford with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart). Creation Theatre’s approach is as far as possible from that. In the unconventional atmosphere of Blackwells’ bookshop, using actors from the Factory company, they offered an anarchic, creative, unfinished, audience-participation Hamlet that resembled a rehearsal and deliberately drew attention all the time to its own artificiality and make-believe. The idea of the director Tim Carroll was to ask the audience to bring props each night, forcing the actors to improvise, and to swop roles so that no two performances would be the same. At times the result was as farcical as the skits done by the Reduced Shakespeare Company with their celebrated Complete Works of Shakespeare in One Evening show. Yet this not a send-up; somehow despite all the oddities and deliberate irreverence we also came away feeling we had glimpsed a genuine production of Hamlet.

Apart from anything else, this production finally gave me a chance to see how a woman can do in the role of Hamlet himself. Many celebrated actresses including Sarah Siddons and Sarah Bernardt have taken the part, feeling that it has a universal humanity that transcends gender, and last year it was taken by Mary Tuomanen in America. The Factory’s Marianne Oldham has a slim, androgynous figure of a good height, and a contralto voice, and she did very well in the role, bringing to it flashes of comic talent in between the melancholy soliloquys. Her flexibility of movement convinced us she could match Laertes with a rapier or board a pirate ship with ease.

It was less convincing to have Marcellus played by a female actor in a skirt, holding a doll on a broomstick, and the invitation to the audience to supply props that could be used in an improvised manner had some really hilarious results. When Polonius told Ophelia to “read on this book” he handed her a fluffy toy goat, that made her look liked a child as she waited for the approach of Hamlet. When the player king and queen entered, they wore bicycle helmets for crowns and when Hamlet mused over Yorick’s skull in the graveyard, he held a large stapler in his hand. The stapler did indeed have a kind of grotesque resemblance to a pair of jaws, and he clacked it suggestively. The ghost, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, used a type of ear- trumpet to make a fearsome breathing sound which was rather effective. Some of the gimmicks appeared meaningful e.g. the use of dangling puppets to substitute at times for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. Others were just annoying: a toy dog on wheels did not make a very convincing letter from Hamlet for Horatio to read aloud. I contributed a branch of rosemary, which was ignored by Ophelia and then worn by the Queen.

For those who might take a dim view of this anarchic approach, there was also plenty of good verse speaking by decent actors like John Hopkins as Claudius and Scott Brooksbank as Polonius. Altogether, this is a production of Hamlet I’m glad I didn’t miss, but it was not quite the definitive production to recommend to those who have never seen the play before!
Julia Gasper.

Hamlet by the Creation Theatre Company and The Factory ran at Blackwells from 5-24th March and is now over. Very soon the company will be presenting The Odyssey: 29th March - 28th April. In May-June they will be offering an exciting series of productions from overseas entitled “Shakespeare and the Islamic World.”
See http://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/ 
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