As they often say, in Shakespeare’s time people went to hear plays, not to see them. This is quite fitting for Julia Stubbs Hughes’ adaptation of Hamlet; a one-man show encapsulating the entire tragedy from Horatio’s point of view. With a stripped down aesthetic and a single actor, the adaptation primarily operates on a verbal level, prompting us to hear the play rather than see it.

This is Julia Stubbs Hughes’ second adaptation, the first one being Summer, based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name. She returns to the Jack Studio Theatre with Hamlet Our Brother, a production I can only describe as lonely.

In the small Jack Studio Theatre, Karl Swinyard’s minimalistic design frames the performance area with delicate metal pipes. When moved, they transform the space quite well. It is a shame this is not a bigger production as it would have been very satisfying to see this design on a larger scale. Katie Nicoll’s lighting design accompanies it very effectively, with clever, delicate lights that come especially in handy when Hamlet sees his father’s ghost. The music, composed by Philip Matejtschuk successfully aids the atmosphere of the piece, occasionally adding dramatic tension to the scenes.

Under Timothy Stubbs Hughes’ direction, Jeffrey Mundell has a heavy task: he has to reflect on Hamlet’s journey as Horatio and then also become all of Hamlet’s characters. With no one to play off of and with a vast amount of lines to deliver without an interval, Mundell’s focused commitment is very impressive. Some scenes work quite well, especially when he embodies a Hamlet possessed by his father’s spirit in order to communicate with him, or when he strokes his own face, pretending the hand belongs to Gertrude but the face belongs to Hamlet. However, too often the play turns into a schizophrenic dialogue that gets dangerously close to being clichéd, and while there are some truly entertaining scenes, Julia Stubbs Hughes’ writing demands a lot from her audience’s imagination and attention. Luckily Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, which helps the audience to stay on track in terms of the narrative, but I wonder if the one-man adaptation would still be successful if it was based on one of the Bard’s less popular plays.

Although it is an adaptation, the text mostly remains true to the original, apart from the added opening and closing lines from Horatio’s perspective, but this element is not consistent enough throughout the piece to clarify why is this new point of view needed or how it illuminates the tragedy in a new way.

Hamlet Our Brother is playing at Jack Studio Theatre until the 9 of April. For more information and tickets, see the Studio Jack Theatre website.

Photo: Tim Stubbs Hughes