Arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays with its central figure an actor’s Holy Grail, Hamlet is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. However, Icarus Theatre Collective and Harrogate Theatre have a new production of The Dane which falls rather short of successful.

The play has been cut down to two and a half hours so it seems perplexing that new scenes have been clumsily inserted. Picture it; night time - the cold, windy battlements of Elsinore castle - sentinels on watch tell Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio, they’ve seen a ghost and not just any ghost but that of the dead king. A fairly intriguing and dramatic opening you might argue.

Director/Producer Max Lewendel doesn’t agree, instead, adding a strange opening scene. Hamlet, in half-light, ambles on stage, sits and plays his recorder, finishes and leaves. It neither added nor imparted any more to Hamlet’s character or to the play. In fact, it set the tone for the rest of the production which, at times was like watching actors wade through black treacle.

With the plot carried by the protagonist, it’s a tall order for any actor, even the best of the best. Giles Roberts’ cocky interpretation of the half-mad, silly, self-indulgent student was just that. The soliloquies, unimaginatively directed, did not help his cause. The actor is far from bad but perhaps lacks just enough gravitas for the role.

Some interesting ensemble movement and Greek chorus commentary lift the production slightly but, sadly, these appear infrequently. There were also hints that the cast could gel given half of a chance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Tobias Deacon and Omar Ibrahim are engaging and are to be commended; both actors having natural flair without over-egging the comedy. Also, special mention to Loren O’Dair whose luminous, effortless Ophelia was a delight. So, too are the splendid performances of Dani McCallum as Horatio and John Paton as Claudius.

Alas, these engaging performances are swallowed by wobbly sets and fussy costumes and unnecessary tweaks which make the whole production less than satisfying.

- Lucia Cox