This gleefully Gothic retelling of Hamlet is visually stunning, full of energy and admirably lucid in its direction. Taking Shakespeare’s ‘bad’ quarto (we get, for example, ‘To be, or not to be – ay, there’s the point’), and unafraid to mix in modern additions, director Chris Barton has put together a slick, stylised, spectacular production that draws on vaudeville and burlesque, all frightwigs and bruised, blackened eyes.
It’s sparklingly clear in its storytelling and full of arresting and inventive images: the old king’s ghost appears amid billows of smoke punctured by torchlight, and there’s an increasingly frustrated text message exchange between Hamlet and Ofelia (sic). Sudden changes of pace and lighting – ably handled by Alex Sutton – keep the audience on its toes.
The acting is confident and committed. Louis Lunts is pouting and petulant in the title role, full of pent-up adolescent rage. Katy Bulmer (as Corambis and the first gravedigger) steals every scene she’s in with her natural sense of comedy. Watching over it all is chief musician Max Barton as the old king, a looming presence at the back of the stage.
But underneath the showy staging, there’s a real sense of emotion and a sincerity to this inspired production that are thrilling to experience.