"To be, or not to be – aye, there’s the point" Hamlet, but not as you know it, and what an eye opening and engaging piece of theatre this version is. Using the original First Quarto text, published in 1603 and thought to be based on that of a touring company member’s recollections it is a fast paced, clean cut and powerful piece of action theatre. Whilst it is true that many of the now famous soliloquies are cut down or missing what is added are clearer character motives and a drive that keeps the piece within the "two hours traffic of the stage."
Imogen Bond and her company Vital Signs are to be congratulated on a gripping, entertaining and illuminating version of the play. Given a 1930's feel with its costumes it allows them to include a song that adds poignancy to this already highly charged atmospheric version, and the small cast cover all the characters without confusion – most interestingly Ophelia becoming the second gravedigger with whiteface and red nose in a great double act with the first. The minimalist set in this small space shows how ingenuity and imagination can create outdoor spaces and palace chambers from simple props; nowhere better than the use of a black cloth and chairs for the grave. With simple but effective lighting, including torches for the opening scene, this is a play that is not afraid to allow the light and dark moods to be enhanced by empathetic changes.
Of the excellent cast Jamie Matthewman’s Hamlet is very much an angry young man, not to be trifled with and revealing a passion that at times is truly gripping and frightening, as is the mad scene of Rebecca Pownall’s Ophelia, totally unhinged and the best that I have ever seen it portrayed. Rob Lonergan’s King comes across as a strong leader who has no qualms in wielding power to his ends, whilst the casting of Katie Hayes as Horatio adds an interesting new dynamic – especially after the royal wedding when we know how much William used Kate as a confidante!
Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or just seeking something new and challenging, go seek out this Hamlet at the White Bear in Kennington, it will be a rewarding experience I guarantee.