Have you ever wondered what Hamlet was like before his father died? Was he more concerned with being a man or a prince? Was he truly in love with Ophelia? And did he always think so much? These are just some of the questions that are answered in director Anthony Banks and writer Michael Lesslie’s new specially commissioned play that is currently showing alongside Hamlet.
We follow the famous characters a decade before Hamlet. Polonius’ family have arrived making Laertes anxious about his position, so he tries to set up a way that Hamlet can meet his demise. If you have never read or seen Hamlet this would be difficult to follow, there are so many in-jokes and reference that would be lost. The play does not shed any new light onto Hamlet, but is extremely funny, witty, and interesting because of our hindsight.
The show stars teenagers drawn from the National Youth Theatre (of which Jude Law, a later Hamlet, is a famous alumnus). Eve Ponsoby’s Ophelia is mesmerising, and much of the story sympathetically explores her character as a girl in a man’s world. The whole take on Ophelia pre-Hamlet is much like Virginia Woolf’s idea of Shakespeare’s Sister, which wonders how a female who is just as talented as a male would succeed in Shakespeare’s world.
The sixteenth-century speech is wonderfully recreated, for example when Hamlet questions the “measure of a man” it has echoes of Macbeth’s “I dare do all that may become a man”. Additionally we constantly feel like we are a part of the action with actors lurking in the circle, and then shouting out lines from the aisle.
This is 50 minutes jam-packed with sword-fighting, verbal sparring, and full on flirting. Judging by the applause and enthusiasm of the audience largely made up of young people, this could have certainly been longer. Following on from the Royal Shakespeare’s tour of schools with a shortened Hamlet, which enraptured its eight-year-old audience, Banks’ version further shows how the play is perfect for getting a younger audience into theatre. A gem.
Runs till 26 October.
To see or not to see: * * * *