Theatre review: Hamlet (Citizens Theatre)

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For such a well-trodden text, Hamlet can be a tricky proposition - with traps aplenty for those unwilling or unable to look behind the soliloquies.

The sheer familiarity of the language can overshadow the human drama, with Hamlet himself often seeming more sulky teenager than flawed hero.

There’s no such problem in Dominic Hill’s ambitious redux for the Citizen’s Theatre, which turns the whole play into a bloody soap opera with theatrical flourishes around every corner.

The production will seem familiar to those who saw Hill’s terrific Crime and Punishment last year. There’s the same demolition of the fourth wall, the same conceit of having the backstage area onstage for all to see, and the same emotionally frazzling intensity punctuated by odd moments of humour.

Taking on the lead role is Brian Ferguson, who delivers a Hamlet heavy on the insanity; stalked by ghosts, uncertainty and paranoia.

It’s an impressive performance for the most part and not overly reliant upon the big speeches, which are used to punctuate rather than fully explain the Dane’s motives. Admittedly he convinces less when the plot demands more anger than lunacy, but only very occasionally bends under the weight of the blank verse.

This is no one-man show though, with weighty turns from each of the nine-strong cast. In particular, Meghan Tyler’s Ophelia is given a central role with a fleshed-out backstory strongly hinting at a history of abuse in all its forms. Her downfall is the emotional heart of the performance; shocking and beautifully drawn.

Cliff Burnett’s creepy Polonius is also impressive, although the wonderful Roberta Taylor is underused as Gertrude - her badly-judged death scene a particular low point.

No great Dane then, but certainly an interesting one.