In this exquisite production of Hamlet, Butterfly Theatre Company creates a truly innovative and exciting venture into the underground caves of Redcliffe. The London-based company has spent the last few years taking productions to various underground locations, such as Kents Cavern in Torquay, Poole's Cavern in Buxton and now, they bring Hamlet to Redcliffe Caves in Bristol and it couldn't be a better location for the eerie tale.
The excitement for this production begins even before you enter the mysterious venue. Queuing outside you are handed a torch and given a briefing on the low roof at certain points in the vast cavern. As you are lead into the caves, the light dims and the temperature drops significantly, leaving me thanking my lucky stars that it is the height of summer outside. I couldn't imagine this being too comfortable during the winter months!
The recreation emulates a walking tour and each scene is acted out in a different part of the seemingly infinite caves. The avenues are lit by glimmering candle light and as the audience come to a halt in the first cavern, the play begins, as the ghost of Hamlets father appears, rasping and gulping effectively.
Condensing the near four-hour play into just over an hour's worth of material, the poetry and prose is interpreted well to create the dialogue and interactions between characters within the plot. Although Hamlet is traditionally seen as a tragedy, this adaption is rife with humour born of Shakespeare's original script.
One scene in particular is made especially amusing through the well-placed use of audience participation. The scene in question is when Hamlet and his friends act out his father's suspicious death to the King and Queen, to gage the King's reaction and decide whether or not he is guilty of the crime. Pulling an audience member out of the crowd to be the Queen, and another to be the King, the scene has its spectators laughing away at the tongue in cheek (almost slapstick) humour of the performance.
There are metaphors and descriptions all the way through Shakespeare's stories about the natural world and Butterfly Theatre Company try to reflect this for the audience by there selection of underground set. The surroundings make the performance an entirely inclusive experience and scene changes are just as exciting, as you wonder deeper into the low-lit underground world.
The only downside to the walking aspect of the production is that the actors break character between scenes to direct audience members to the next location, which slightly takes away from the illusion of reality in the performance. However, this is only a minor thing and is easily forgotten about during the production itself.
A special mention must be made to the lead bard for his performance of Hamlet, as the character's crazed and confused actions are illuminated in his mammoth range of facial expressions. Commendation must also be given to the performance of King Hamlet's ghost and his treacherous brother, King Claudius. Whilst Hamlet's ghost was appropriately evocative and supernatural, Claudius was played with a marvellous pomposity, which added to the humour of the adaption.
This is theatre for both aficionados and complete beginners. Whether you have never stepped foot in a theatre before, or you have seen Hamlet countless times, the venue for this production offers a whole new angle to theatre and whatever production this company are performing, I can only imagine it is as interesting and exciting as this experience.