Some of the elements presented to us are excellent. Christopher Hone’s setting is simple – grey stone steps to a platform from which two monumental thrones remind us that this is a play about power as well as issues of personal and political morality. Katharine Heath’s Jacobean-era costumes evoke the statues and portraits of the baroque and are equally monochrome with blood-red detailing. A lot of the dialogue, especially in Hamlet’s soliloquies and in the scenes with soldiers or courtiers, is spoken in chorus or overlaps. This is a production with no time to waste.
The actual performances are uneven. Julia Munrow is an intelligent Gertrude, one who knowingly drinks the poison in the last scene and whose conscience is throughout at war with her desire for Claudius. John Paton plays the king – very much a roi fainéant – who meets his end by being forced to finish the dregs from the poisoned cup rather than by steel (there’s no divinity surrounding this monarch) – as well as the gravedigger. [Loren O’Dair’s Ophelia is moving in her mad scene but a bit of a wimp otherwise.
Well-sketched characterisations of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come from Tobias Beacon and Omar Ibrahim respectively. The former is all suave courtliness; the latter is a rough-cast bumpkin. I’m at a loss to know why Horatio is played as Horatia – and most of the time I couldn’t make out what Dani McCallum was saying as this anachronistic fellow-student of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who is (perhaps) a little in love with Hamlet. John Eastman Polonius is a political animal to his point-scoring fingertips and you can see why Nick Holbek's Laertes needs to be French-polished.
Which brings us to Giles Roberts in the title role. His portrait is of an athletic young man, very good in his scenes with others, in his melancholic antic disposition and his sudden bouts of activity but tending to discount all the poetry which should illuminate these. There’s an extremely effective duel ¬ Ronan Traynor is the fight director yet overall something is missing. This isn’t Hamlet without the prince, just Hamlet with only a part of one.