Deep within Waterloo Station, way past the point you think you've gone too far, The Network Theatre resides. The address can't be can’t be found on Google Maps or GPS and even my London cabbie didn’t know the road (I highly recommend a reccy). This almost secret, almost underground location feels like the perfect place to stage Hamlet , a play about dark conspiracies and hidden agendas. I was almost disappointed no one asked me for a password at the box office.
The Bedouin Shakespeare Company is a new venture founded by UAE ex-pats Edward Andrews and Mark Brewer and endorsed by the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. Its aim is to bring Shakespeare to the UAE and although Hamlet has not been dumbed down for a foreign audience, the clarity of the storytelling is notable.
Edward Andrews is a mercurial Hamlet, skilfully playing abrupt changes in mood and tempo. He morphs effortlessly from elegant playboy to petulant schoolboy and stands up to the Dane’s most famous speeches. Edmund Digby-Jones plays a likeable Laertes and a charming Irish Player King, and Laura Corbett is a dignified yet touching Gertrude. Eleanor Russo's double turn as Ophelia and the Gravedigger is an inspired, darkly witty piece of casting.
The strong ensemble cast don't need much in the way of costume or set design to tell the story, but it's a shame that the shabbiness of both distract from, instead of enhance, the fine performances. Lighting and sound effects most often serve to obscure the actors and if the clothes make the man, these are a sorry lot indeed. Hamlet wears a red tail coat, the stagehand heavies are dressed in black balaclavas while Ophelia slums it in Birkenstocks. The audience doesn't need lavish costume in order to suspend their disbelief but the lack of a consistent reality is sloppy and makes it difficult to buy into the stage world set in front of us. The cast work hard, however, bounding through the text, doubling up, singing, dancing, doing various accents and even a touch of Commedia dell'Arte.
The text has been pared back to the bare bones and the most famous lines. There is no King of Norway and only Rosencrantz spies on the mad prince (Guildenstern is cut). The slick edits ensure a galloping pace, which is matched by the actors' delivery. This keeps the energy and excitement high, although this comes at a cost of the occasionally garbled line.
This is a straightforward, well-acted production of Shakespeare's great tragedy. While old fans won't find too many surprises, the beauty of the language is given pride of place, which ought to delight audiences from the UAE to the belly of Waterloo Station.
- Georgia Blake