Review of Hamlet at The Rose Playhouse London

HamletJust a couple of hundred metres from the familiar facades of Shakespeare’s Globe stands the lesser-known, but historically fascinating Rose Playhouse. The oldest theatre on Bankside, it is now largely an archaeological site after its accidental discovery in 1989, but the tiny stage also hosts several plays each year, Shakespearean and otherwise.

In this, the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, one of his best-known plays returns to the Rose: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. With a cast of seven, The Rose Playhouse presents a heavily cut version of the epic tragedy, and at only 90 minutes we speed through the familiar tale of ghosts, madness and death.

The production appears slightly muddled as to era, with music from classical to vintage jazz standards to synth-pop, and modern costumes combined with old-fashioned rifles. Director Diana Vucane also attempts to use the space creatively, but to mixed effect. As well as the small wooden stage, actors appear on the far side of the site, across the water-covered archaeological dig; this works well in some instances, for example in creating an eerie atmosphere as Hamlet seeks to encounter his father’s ghost early in the play. Yet in other scenes, the distance from the audience – and, indeed, from other cast members – is detrimental. Notably during Hamlet’s ‘Now I might do it’ soliloquy, the intimacy of the scene is lost as Claudius is far away in safety; without Hamlet standing close to him, sword in hand, the idea that he might exact revenge in the heat of moment never feels like a real danger. Nevertheless, the unique space offers a unique opportunity for creative staging and lighting that you won’t find anywhere else.

AMLET Feb 2016- (l-r) Luke Jasztal (Horatio), Chris Clynes (Hamlet) at THE ROSE PLAYHOUSE. (Photographer - Jana Andrejeva-Andersone)
AMLET Feb 2016- (l-r) Luke Jasztal (Horatio), Chris Clynes (Hamlet) at THE ROSE PLAYHOUSE. (Photographer – Jana Andrejeva-Andersone)

Nevertheless, Chris Clynes is a convincing Hamlet, effectively portraying a man deeply suffering with grief and the crumbling of his previous secure world; his scenes of madness have genuinely unnerving moments, although it’s a shame that is ‘To be or not to be’ feels over-performed compared to his natural stage presence throughout the rest of the piece. Clynes is complemented by Luke Jasztal’s engaging Horatio, helpless observer of the court’s spiral into bloody revenge. However, Nigel Fyfe’s Claudius is disappointingly wooden, his tone maintaining the same flatness throughout, whether intending to portray arrogance, guilt or threat. Suzanne Marie, reprising her role as Ophelia after appearing at the Rose in 2013, swings between listlessness and melodrama; later, in a well-intentioned but ultimately misfiring directorial decision, her madness transforms her in to a ball of energy. Unfortunately I wasn’t convinced by the idea of a comedic, sexualised and raucous Ophelia in the guise of a sequinned cabaret singer. It is uncomfortable viewing, as a descent into madness should be, but for me her madness should still retain an essence of the character. However, full credit should go to Marie for embracing this aspect of the role.

This production is an accessible way into Shakespeare for any newcomers; however, Hamlet is one of the Bard’s most frequently performed plays, and this rather muddled approach and hit-and-miss execution means there are superior options out there if you fancy a taste of Shakespearean tragedy.

3 stars

Review by Laura Peatman

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
A treacherous fratricide has torn the veil that separates this world from the next, and the only place that seems to be even more disturbed than the haunted grounds of Elsinore is the inexplicably transformed mind of the grieving prince who sets out on a lingering vendetta.

This production seeks to journey through Shakespeare’s well-known play, focusing on the perspective of a disturbed mind, thus defying the reality-based structure of time and space, recognizing solely the inconceivable logic of a dream.

To sleep, perchance to dream…
Good night, sweet prince!

Chris Clynes (Hamlet), Suzanne Marie (Ophelia), Luke Jasztal (Horatio), Ross McNamara (Laertes), Nigel (Fyfe Claudius), Louise Templeton (Gertrude), Ross Mcnamara (Laertes), Dermot Dolan (Polonius), Hamlet’s Ghost (Rory Mccallum)

By William Shakespeare
2nd to 26th February 2016 at The Rose Playhouse, Bankside
Presented by The Rose Playhouse, Bankside

The Rose Playhouse, Bankside (56 Park Street, London SE1 9AR)
Dates: 2nd – 26th February 2016, Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 3pm only
Box office: 020 7261 9565, boxoffice@roseplayhouse.org.uk
Tickets: £ 12 (£ 10 Concessions) Online: www.wegottickets.com

Twitter: @RoseTheatreSE1, @HamletatTheRose
Diana Vucane (Director), Shannon Martin (Stage Manager)
Producer: The Rose Playhouse

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