Review: Hamlet (St Paul's Church)

The annual open air production at the Covent Garden venue is Shakespeare’s tragedy

Jenet Le Lacheur as Hamlet
Jenet Le Lacheur as Hamlet

Celebrating its 10th year of shows at The Actor's Church in Covent Garden, Iris Theatre present its open-air, promenade production of Hamlet, a show which is billed to explore rebellion and gender, all whilst set in the beautiful gardens of St Paul's Church.

Daniel Winder's production takes its aesthetic inspiration from a variety of sources: the women wear Handmaid's Tale-style hoods, whilst the ghost of Hamlet's father looks as if it has walked straight off of the set of Doctor Who. Various screens are placed around the venue – inside a fake hedge, on the ceiling of the church – which shows cut scenes as well as security footage, morning announcements, and quick blasts of memory. There's certainly something unnerving about these sci-fi tropes and structures placed in the traditionally beautiful gardens of St Paul's Church.

However, the production quite often does a 180 degree turn and also tries to offer an exploration of gender, using the smallest of cues from the text to proffer this examination. The Tragedians come dressed in glitter and tights on their face, voguing up the church aisles alongside footage from Paris is Burning. Hamlet joins them in neon heels. There could be something interesting to be said about gender and rebellion in this play, and it's a shame this concept has not been mined enough. Instead it is lost amongst the designs of a fascist regime and the audience moving across the gardens between scenes.

A hint of a tender, romantic love is shown between Hamlet and Horatio, with Horatio also calling Hamlet ‘My Lady' – the only one to do so. Again, much like the other facets of the production, this relationship is not given the full time or exploration it deserves, instead falling to the wayside as the darker parts of the play begin to take centre stage. It's a shame, as this bold production choice would have certainly paid off.

Despite the confusion of style, this Hamlet certainly has some fine performances. In what is thought to be a UK first, transgender and non-binary actor Jenet Le Lacheur plays the title character, and is a delight to watch throughout. Her Hamlet is both nervous and confused whilst also delighting in the madness the latter half of the play brings. Le Lacheur also brings some great comic moments to the show, such as a segment where Hamlet vlogs messages to Horatio after they have been sent away. Vinta Morgan plays a serious, almost trustworthy Claudius, and Paula James brings a barrel of laughs to her BeeGees-singing Gravedigger.

A well-acted production of one of the Bard's finest works, it's a shame this production isn't fully realised. That being said, the promenade style of the show is certainly a highlight, and iconic scenes performed in the gorgeous gardens and church are worth going for.