Review: hamlet is dead. no gravity, Arcola Theatre

Ewald Palmetshofer’s play hamlet is dead. no gravity is a dark vision of a family in crisis. Shifting between explosive scenes of dramatic conflict and offering subtle, humorous commentary on everything from family dynamics to the hypocrisy of society, Palmetshofer’s play leaves much food for thought and leaves the audience pondering some of the questions raised far after leaving the theatre.

Part of the Arcola Theatre’s VOLTA International Play Festival celebrating award-winning writers from across the world, hamlet is dead. no gravity has been translated from its original German into English, but with Nick Blackadder’s expert translation you would hardly know that this was not the original way the text was designed to be heard. Palmetshofer’s script is rhythmical and pacey, almost Shakespearean in its tone. There is also heavy use of repetition which unfortunately can feel a bit hard to engage with and too fragmented and disjointed in places. The play deals with a variety of topics from a scientific perspective – love, death and heaven are all discussed in relation to mathematical and scientific theories – presenting a fresh angle on these subjects. There are some moments of humour which allow the audience brief respite from the experimental and unusual nature of the play.

Light plays an integral part of this production and Matt Leventhall’s lighting design is thrilling, affording the play the ability to rapidly change to different scenarios with effortless ease. A huge pool of white light indicates the family in a sort of interrogation or counselling room, making the audience seem as if they are the outlet for these characters to let out their built-up frustrations. Set design is simple, with the main focus being on a few, simple chairs which are reminiscent of a primary school classroom. This bare-bones approach gives actors the chance to let the enthralling script do the work without unnecessary distraction, and keeps up the repetitive pace this play requires.

hamlet is dead. no gravity’s modestly sized cast is impressive, with passion and talent in abundance. Kathryn O’Reilly shines during an impressive monologue dissecting love, full of expletives and delivered with such conviction that it is impossible not to be completely drawn in to her passionate and humorous argument. Cary Crankson also puts in a quality performance as son Mani, giving a strong and engaging speech about modern life which was both entertaining and thought-provoking. Elizabeth Chan is similarly pleasing as the almost repulsively insincere Bine, an old friend who reunites with Dani and Mani.

An interesting, experimental look at a family crisis, hamlet is dead. no gravity provides a brilliant showcase of the talents of European playwright Ewald Palmetshofer and is one to check out if you fancy having something to really think about.

hamlet is dead. no gravity is playing the Arcola Theatre until 12 September. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website. Photo by VOLTA.