Sean Holmes’ new production of Hamlet at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is something of a curate’s egg. The costumes are an odd mix of period and modern, and there are a range of acting styles, which don’t really mesh, either.
On the whole, it was the actors taking a more traditional approach who engaged better with the material, and provided the more believable performances. Polly Frame as Gertrude, and John Lightbody as Polonius, stood out in this regard.
Comedian George Fouracres offered a unique take on the Dane. His Hamlet is the only midlander in Elsinore, he dresses like a wannabe vampire from the mid-90s, and listens to The Smiths. His playfulness flips to wilful cruelty, and there are fourth wall-breaking moments when he snaps into a pastiche of Olivier. The occasionally brilliant, but odd and inconsistent characterisation matches the general tone of the production.
With a run-time of more than three hours, this Hamlet is slow to get going. But it is probably the point at which you return from the second intermission that will ultimately determine whether or not you enjoy the show.
Instead of the traditional grave-digger scene you are addressed directly by composer and on-stage musician Ed Gaughan, who goes off on a tangent about one of the lads from TV quiz show The Chase getting a head injury, throws in some political satire, slags off the English, and plays a skull as a percussion instrument, before leading the audience in a rousing sing-a-long of The Gambler. It was a bold choice, and probably a divisive one, but Gaughan’s hugely endearing comic persona won me over, making me re-evaluate the production as a whole.
This is not going to appeal to everyone, and fans of more conventional interpretations are likely to be particularly disappointed. But if you’re willing to take the rough with the smooth, and you don’t mind a cameo appearance from Romeo and Juliet, or a paddling pool centre-stage, then you could be in for a memorable Hamlet. To see, or not to see? That is the question.