The Factory theatre company has its own very different slant on Shakespeare’s masterpiece, which they have been touring to great acclaim through the UK and Europe for the last three years.
In this version of the play, the cast is chosen by the audience through a game of chance moments before the show starts. The audience also provide props for the show, and it is these elements that are meant to provide the “one-night-only” aspect, as the cast improvise with the materials provided on an otherwise empty stage.
This can create an intriguing spectacle, but at the same time can lead to scenes which are more reminiscent of an actors’ improv or a training exercise rather than a fully-fledged play. While using an electric plug to ‘plug into’ messages sent by Hamlet is clever and amusing, it can also seem a little try-hard, too knowingly clever.
While the script sticks faithfully to the original language, the performance has a lighter tone than usually expected from a quintesentially tragic piece. Shakespeare did write scenes of comic relief within Hamlet, as with all his plays he tempered tragedy with wit, and these are played out with aplomb.
Polonius on Monday night was especially notable, showing a fine balance of emotion and witty-witlessness, harmless at best. This was representative of the acting as a whole, which was of a high standard.
However there are still the props. While some of them were used to great effect others served merely to distract from the content of the play itself. The movements of the old king’s ghost are well represented in the form of a slinky, but is it necessary to represent Fortinbras – arriving victorious to find the court dead – in the form of a duck? Or for King Claudius, at prayers, to speak like a Dalek?
Whilst clever, and showing a quick witted use of the props to hand, these gimmicks steal the limelight from the play’s central themes. Can the final bloody denouement, a gory orgy of poisoning and stabbing, retain its power when played out with two tennis racquets?
In all, The Factory are a company of very fine actors with great skills and quick wits, very adaptive and attuned to what they are doing. This spectacle is a fine showcase of these skills, full of clever, adroit performances, providing a great spectacle and plenty of enjoyment.
If this is what you are looking for, get a ticket now. If you want Hamlet, look elsewhere.
The Factory are at the Rose all week, performing their versions of Hamlet and Chekhov’s ‘Seagull’, as well as ‘Round 2’, a collection of plays written by the company members.
For tickets visit www.rosetheatrekingston.org or call 0871 230 1552 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0871 230 1552 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.