Hamlet! The Musical is fast, funny and incorrigibly charming. It is impossible not to be won over by this show which lovingly and smartly sends up Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy in a flurry of sequins and tap routines.
The show follows the original’s structure surprising closely, and does an impressive feat of keeping the story nipping along almost entirely through song with very little filler or exposition.
The humour is entirely goodhearted and commendably spares us from any comparisons to the monarchy or achingly cool jibes at the reality TV show du jour. Any popular culture references are from sources so long subsumed into our shared cultural memory that they could well be Shakespearean themselves. Because of this, not one joke goes over the head of the audience who laugh as a collective at each gag or silly pun.
The cast are stupendous and could give the West End a run for its money. They work tirelessly, barely a scene going by that doesn’t call for a quick costume change to hot foot it into a nifty little piece of choreography. From its soliloquy-heavy source, it makes surprising sense that the characters should croon rather than cry their hearts out. Everyone gets their chance to take centre stage in superb send-ups. Ophelia plays dress up in a Disney princess gown, the Ghost could well be doing split shifts as Grease’s Teen Angel – albeit with a rather fetching beard – and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hilariously cute Dick’n’Dom style puppets.
With so many witty and bizarre interpretations, it’s a shame that Hamlet should be the least interesting of the characters parading the stage. This is no fault of Jack Shalloo who plays his part sweetly and carries the show’s big number ‘To Be Or Not to Be’ like a bona fide rock star. But when you’re battling against a tango loving Laertes who wants to wash down your albondigas with a large glass of sangria, it’s difficult not to be upstaged.
It may have been a dedicated cult audience who have followed Hamlet! from the Fringe or listeners of Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 show, but a spontaneous cheer swept the audience as To Be Or Not to Be began. The majority of the upper circle were singing along, no need for the handy song sheet.
From its humbler beginnings at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe way back in 2001, the production rises to the challenge of occupying the much larger theatre with generous wings, fly system and amplification, swelling and spilling over into the space with a bit of not-too-invasive audience participation. Monstrously huge pieces of set create a pop-up book Elsinore, with characters coming and going all over. It’s impressive but slightly drab against the kaleidoscopic lighting and costumes which – quite literally in the case of Claudius’s impressive codpiece – are eye-popping.
The show appears to have benefited from a long gestation period and we’re presented with a show that doesn’t drop pace for a second, raring to go for a big time transfer. Hamlet! definitely has sticking power.
Hamlet! The Musical was never going to be Shakespeare, but what you get is 100% showbiz.
Not convinced by this review? Read another brilliant review of Hamlet! The Musical by an AYT reviewer here.