Review: Hamlet at The Cockpit Theatre

#Tweetingit – 4* A 2 hour Hamlet? No? Yes really!  A solid performance of “the bad” first version of Hamlet. 

Obviously, it being Shakespeare’s anniversary this year, Shakespeare is being performed everywhere. It was perhaps brave of Ilissos to present Hamlet when the Globe is performing it in a couple of weeks but this is a slightly different version to that which most would know;  the first Quartro; a scarcely performed production of the mysterious 1603 manuscript, thought to be the version of Hamlet that Shakespeare’s audiences would have watched.

Prior to this, I had no idea that there were three versions of Hamlet but it turns out there are, each with their own merits which, of course, will be incessantly judged and assessed by Shakespeare aficionados and scholars.

image001For background, this version of Hamlet is thought to be “an unreliable version of the play put together from the memories of actors or reporters.” transcribed by an actor playing Marcellus with the in the early 17th century. For those who do not know, actors were not given a full script but instead the lead in lines and then just their sections. This stopped plagiarism but also kept down costs (I am sure those who have written dissertations on Shakespeare will have more in-depth explanations). It is also widely known as the “bad quarto” but this production couldn’t be any further from that description. Some may argue this is because I have never studied Hamlet and I don’t know it inside out and back to front, but I think that it is actually because it was a genuinely good production

The performances were in the main solid. Nicholas Limm as Hamlet did an excellent job inimage003 his first major part since graduating from Central School of Speech and Drama while Maryam Grace’s Ophelia had a good balance of slightly feisty and mournfulness about her. The rest of the cast supported well, playing numerous roles without confusion as to who they were at any point. The set was pleasantly simple while the costumes (cropped jeans breaches in the main) gave a nod to “traditional” dress without adding too much stuffiness to the production.

I had a brief moment of tenseness when they began fencing, not because it was bad; it was actually extremely well-choreographed, but as a fencer, the lack of masks and the removal of the protective “button” at the end of the sword at the moment the final blow was to be dealt, made me flinch just a little.

Some might think that Q1 lacks the polish of the longer texts and there are sections whichimage002 lose some of the clout and meaning due to being cut short but I really do not think that anything was lost from the story and in fact this cutting down of the script just speeds up the action and makes the oft challenging and oblique language (particularly to people who do not go to Shakespeare regularly), more clear and accessible. Perhaps this should be watched as a play in its own right, not compared to other productions or the full script. I have seen some truly scathing comments about this and other productions of this script and I think it unfair to judge it based on the far more extensive show we are used to. This is a punchier and less ostentatious text, perhaps less bloody or in depth for Hamlet lovers but it is ideal for new anyone new to Shakespeare, not ready for the four hour slog (particularly on a weeknight) that Hamlet can be, or wants a more refined, more accessible and, to my mind, continuously entertaining and, most importantly, well performed version of this play, should absolutely go to see this production.

Running until 30 April.

Director: Charles Ward

Set: Rebecca Gardiner

Produced and presented by Ilissos

Tickets: 020 7528 2925 – thecockpit.org.uk

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About Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon Lawson; a civil servant, extreme tea drinker and theatre reviewer.
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