Review: Hamlet: Rotten States, The Hope Theatre

Christmas has been and gone and I thought the same could be said for panto season. Yet, tonight I discover that my aforementioned presumption may not be true – Christmas cracker jokes and slapstick comedy are alive and well in Hamlet: Rotten States at The Hope Theatre, but outside the festive season, these jokes fall flat. 

Hamlet is the famous Shakespearean tale of the troubled Prince of Denmark that explores grief and its complex mental health implications. It is probably one of the most famous plays Shakespeare penned and yet, this reinterpretation is alien to me. 

Centring on the acting troupe from the original text, this show stumbles through the story, constantly tripping up on the quality of the comedy and lack of clear perspective. The chaotic energy onstage isn’t enticing, it’s just chaotic, with me watching, waiting for someone to anchor this story in something substantial. I think the problem ultimately lies in the idea that Hamlet can ever be completely detached from its gothic undertones. Stripping Hamlet of any sincere severity, renders it an empty shell of a play which cannot be fixed by filling it with adolescent humour.  This play forces its comedy on the audience and its attempts to do so are about as successful as forcing dairy on someone lactose intolerant. 

The trio of performers are made up of Will Bridges, Amy Fleming and Jake Hassam who deserve credit for their enthusiasm, but an energetic delivery can’t save this piece. Actors playing actors often get laughs for the self-reflective analysis of the actor stereotype of pretentiousness and narcissism. However, the character’s constant offstage chatter about how oh so good their speech just was is just annoying. Shaky accents and weak character indicators muddy the waters, leaving no clarity in when the actors switch from character to character. As the play continues, the effort it takes to keep up just doesn’t seem worth it.  

This piece is consistent only so much as I am confused by everything. Hassam’s sound design and Nigel Munson’s lighting design come together to create blaring sequences of strobe lighting and pounding electronic music. The intensity of the tech in no way matches up with what’s happening onstage and after the shock wears off, I am just left dreading each time someone walks towards the sound desk. 

I am pretty familiar with the story of Hamlet, but that fact is inconsequential tonight. Whether it is your first or tenth experience of Shakespeare’s classic, your chances of understanding this play are about the same. Although the original has for years raised many questions, the only one I am left asking tonight is why? 

Hamlet: Rotten States is playing The Hope Theatre until 1 February. For more information and tickets, visit The Hope Theatre website.