Hamlet, Horatio, Ophelia and Laertes hide out in an abandoned church as the country burns and the days pass them by. But they can’t hide forever. Their food is running out, and more than static is coming through on the radio.
Laughing Boy is a re-imagining of Hamlet by emerging young theatre company Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn, currently running in the chapel in Bethnal Green’s Oxford House.
The company bases its work on the belief that human beings experience the world as stories we tell about ourselves and each other, and make new stories out of old ones. Director Rafaella Marcus states that we are all living with the ghosts of our forerunner’s actions. This has always been true, and every new generation doubtless felt cheated by the one that went before.
Laughing Boy is clearly a play by the young, evident in both good and bad ways: poorly timed jokes about drugs and AIDs may be endlessly amusing in the rehearsal room, but before an audience they simply come across as juvenile student humour. It also has a huge amount of passion behind it and the desire to communicate a message, and this is worthy of applause.
There were some really terrific scenes, good use of the space, and moments of real atmosphere, but like the flickering candle on the wall, my engagement with the action kept coming and going. There is a lot of potential in the minds of Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn, and there are many nice touches in this play. But the overall impression I was left with was that its whole is not as good as its parts. The script requires some fine-tuning, as certain scenes dragged or seemed too obviously expositional, and I felt the performers, whilst all having their good moments, fluctuated in strength and believability – but these are still young actors in training.
As a young person, the ideas behind Laughing Boy touched me, as it concerns itself with the troubles facing contemporary youth, but there is a difference between being concerned with these troubles and actually knowing what they are. These guys know. Hamlet and co exist in the smouldering remains of their parents’ mistakes and are, quite literally, banging their heads against brick walls in their passionate confusion, their desire to be doing something and their uncertainty of what that something should be. Hamlet wants to re-build Denmark, but he also wants to stay put, because he doesn’t know what is beyond the walls that are keeping them safe; outside what they know could be worse. These are all recognisable conflictions well observed, and if Laughing Boy shows anything, it shows that the worst thing youth can do is turn on each other. If we’re not in this together for better, we’re in this separated. And that’s disastrous.
Laughing Boy is playing at Oxford House in Bethnal Green until 19 May. For more information and tickets, see the ticket buying website.