By Melissa Tutesigensi
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a timeless tragedy that has been adapted for stage and screen countless times. After having been visited by his father’s ghost, Prince Hamlet is faced with the task of seeking revenge on his father’s death. It is this challenge that plagues the protagonist. He must engage in deep introspection to come to terms with himself and the task at hand. Littered with complex characters in a narrative that reveals them in their entirety, it is no wonder that Castle Theatre Company (CTC) chose to produce this play. “Why not? It’s an amazing play” was director Kate Barton’s reply to me asking her about why she chose Hamlet.
When asked to explain CTC’s plans to make the play their own, Kate said that they were “doing it in a very traditional style” with “historical location and dress”. At a time when many contemporary adaptations are being showcased in theatre, Kate believes that a stripped back traditional Elizabethan take on Hamlet will be refreshing. The venue of the Town Hall which was secured after heavy petitioning and “many, many emails” (Kate) will add a dynamism and improved experience for the audience. We’re promised to expect some of the underscore to be played by the cello and harp to hone in the authenticity to make it into a rich production. There is a sense that everyone in the cast understands and is enthusiastic about making each part fit together down to every visual and atmospheric detail for the performance.
Despite the maintenance of the tradition in this play, we can also expect to see distinctive adaptations. CTC have decided to focus on humour and word-play. The cast all agree that for all of the depth and sincerity in Hamlet, there is a profound humour to be found. Theodore Holt-Bailey, who is CTC’s Hamlet, voiced a sentiment that appears to drive every cast member, that “it could just be another production of Hamlet”, so they want to make it engaging. In this Theodore found the most challenging but rewarding aspect of preparation to be “getting the meaning in the lines and the fun, as silly as that sounds in a production of Hamlet”. They’ve all “worked hard to bring any moment of humour out, however small” (Theodore). Theo Harrison, who will play Polonius, believes that as Hamlet is “a long vast play” maintaining the audience’s attention is key. The cast is agreed that “if we’re having fun with it we’re hoping that everyone else can have fun watching”. We’re promised to see this vitality and energy in the performance.
We’re also promised to expect a “Game of Thrones-type” (Kate) of attention to character complexity and detail. They have paid attention to the nuance of each of character as well as the relationships between them. For example Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle who marries the widowed Queen, should not be understood to be a “cartoon baddy” (Kate) but rather we should recognise his moments of good. The decision to cast Horatio as a female, Lydia Feerick, came from Barton’s idea to stop unnecessarily gender-appropriating roles. Indeed, all roles except from Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude and the Claudius were cast as gender blind, in order to maintain the heteronormative narrative of the original script. Ultimately, each of the weighty characters of the play, CTC want to stress, are none of them simple or straight forward. It’s the very reason why Shakespeare’s Hamlet is enduring.
CTC have an enthusiastic and cohesive cast who seem to want to help the audience enjoy Hamlet as well as allow them to explore the gradations of each of the characters’ development. There is every reason to watch this year’s production of Hamlet; there will be plenty for those even already familiar with the plot. When asked to distil the show in one line, Lydia (Horatio) answered with “if there’s humour we have found it”.
Photograph: Kate Barton