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Hamlet (New Diorama Theatre)

The Faction's ''Hamlet'', part of its 2014 rep season, opened at the New Diorama Theatre last night (8 January 2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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From the brooding, naturalistic near darkness of the battlements at the beginning to the final court scene with its four rapid deaths, Mark Leipacher's fast-paced and deeply compelling interpretation of Shakespeare's longest tragedy is fine theatre. And the storytelling sparkles with clarity as the piece plays out on a plain set with a few basic multifunctioning mobile items such as a trunk on castors.

Modern dress and other items give it immediacy without ever feeling like gimmickry when, for example, Damian Lynch as a plausible, fluent, persuasive Claudius in red velvet jacket makes his first speech to an invisible public via a microphone.

Kate Sawyer does brittle dignity ‘to the manner born' and develops Gertrude into a pitiful tragic figure especially in the closet scene. Derval Mellett gets terrific pathos as Ophelia pushed about by every man in her life and finally singing plaintively and spouting obscenities in the mad scene. And Cary Crankson gives us a sensitive, intelligently imagined Laertes, laughable as he tries to tell Claudius he wants to go to France and again when he offers Ophelia stumbling advice about avoiding sex but later suitably angry and distraught when he returns to avenge his father's death. And Christopher Hughes's simpering cameo as Osric is a delight. It's a pretty strong supporting cast and the projection of Simon Russell Beale as the ghost is a neat way of dealing with it. I liked the ensemble physical theatre elements in depicting the death of Ophelia and the piracy at sea too.

And so to Jonny McPherson, one of the finest Hamlets I've ever seen and that includes many famous ones over the years. He twitches, thumps the floor and puts on voices but it's a measured rather than a histrionic performance. His mood shifts are totally convincing and he delivers the soliloquies like a masterclass in acting. McPherson makes the words sound so fresh and spontaneous that it is as if you're hearing then for the first time. He also lets the right level of bitter, sardonic humour shine through when it's appropriate especially in the baiting of Polonius (Alexander Guiney).

Speaking the dialogue at high modernistic speed means that, even without any drastic cuts, the piece is delivered in three hours. Once it settles – which takes a good ten minutes at the start - the naturalism works in the intimacy of the New Diorama although it would have to go more slowly to be audible in a larger space.