Tag Archives: Hamlet




Southwark Playhouse Borough

HAMLET at Southwark Playhouse Borough



“a workable and reasonably successful ensemble production”


This production from Lazarus Theatre Company reduces Shakespeare’s longest play to a concise one hundred minutes, performed without an interval, by axing all the adult characters. No Claudius, no Gertrude, no Polonius…

The work was initially created as part of an actor in training programme, and the production fails to escape these origins. It still looks and feels like an actor’s workshop rather than a finished piece of theatre. Part of this is deliberate: the setting is an unspecified young person’s space: part drama studio, part therapy group, part corrective training establishment.

The theatre space (Designer Sorcha Corcoran) is stripped back to its black walls exposing the lighting bars, the floor is scuffed with just some fresh blue lines marking zonal space providing some colour. A circle of blue plastic chairs and two props cabinets are the only set. The lighting (Designer Stuart Glover) is often blue too giving some ambience, whilst brighter light from the side bars causes shadowing issues.

An ensemble of nine actors is summoned into the circle by the ringing of a bell. Everyone is dressed in blue sweatshirts, tracksuit bottoms and training shoes. Each is invited to tell their story by an unknown amplified voice (Micha Colombo). This is the method by which Shakespeare’s plot is moved forward; at key moments the voice informs the young people of activities by the missing adults, or of offstage action not seen (“Hamlet has killed Polonius”). The amplified voice becomes an unseen presence with characters looking fearfully upwards, knowing that everything they do is observed. Is this voice then a helpful counsellor or Big Brother?

Central to almost every scene, Hamlet (Michael Hawkey) dominates the action. The remaining ensemble is pushed to the cramped sidelines, slightly but not completely out of the light. Hawkey grows into his role as the play progresses, but the need for speed often impairs the clarity of his diction. Noise from the wind machine and electronic sound effects mask the spoken word in the appearance of old Hamlet’s ghost – although Horatio (Alex Zur) boasts some fine vocal quality – and the occasional use of a handheld microphone with its inherent pops and bangs jars, particularly in Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. The effectiveness of choral speaking during the Ghost scene is also marred by the amplified sound.

Director Ricky Dukes keeps the actors primarily at a distance as if intimacy between them is not permissible. Hamlet interrogates Rosencrantz (Amber Mendez-Martin) and Guildenstern (Raj Swamy) from the full width of the stage, and again when Hamlet berates Ophelia (Lexine Lee) with “Get thee to a nunnery”. Lee plays her role in an effectively calm manner. When she leaves the stage pursued by a handheld camera, TV screens show her movement through the backstage corridors to her untimely and bloody end in a toilet cubicle.

A comic Players’ scene (Kiera Murray and Juan Hernandez) is nicely done and Kalifa Taylor shines in her lone dramatic rendition. Laertes (Sam Morris) lacks sufficient anger on hearing of Ophelia’s fate but a slowmo sword fight (Fight Direction Alice Emery) between him and Hamlet provides an effective way of staging the final scene.

What is achieved then in this radical rethink of how to present Hamlet is a series of vignettes held together by the framing device of the Voice. This cast, the majority of whom are appearing in their first professional production, all require a little more polish and the production is rather rough around the edges. Considering the loss of so many key roles, though, Lazarus has produced, perhaps surprisingly, a workable and reasonably successful ensemble production.



Reviewed on 18th January 2023

by Phillip Money

Photography by Charles Flint



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | August 2021
Yellowfin | ★★★★ | October 2021
Indecent Proposal | ★★ | November 2021
The Woods | ★★★ | March 2022
Anyone Can Whistle | ★★★★ | April 2022
I Know I Know I Know | ★★★★ | April 2022
The Lion | ★★★ | May 2022
Evelyn | ★★★ | June 2022
Tasting Notes | ★★ | July 2022
Doctor Faustus | ★★★★★ | September 2022
The Prince | ★★★ | September 2022
Who’s Holiday! | ★★★ | December 2022


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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

HAMLET at Edinburgh Festival Fringe





“a fitting expression of the artistry of two men who have had long and extraordinary careers”


There is so much to admire and celebrate about the achievements of Ian McKellen, actor, and Peter Schaufuss, dancer, and even William Shakespeare, dramatist, for that matter. It seems like a no-brainer, therefore, to put all three together for a seventy five minute performance in the visually stunning setting of Ashton Hall in St. Stephen’s Theatre in Edinburgh. And it is an extraordinary experience, but not the kind you might be anticipating.

Firstly, there is the building. Approaching St Stephens from the street, it rises up before you like a sanctified apparition of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. The warm welcome the staff extend as you enter, contrasts nicely with the austere lines of the interiors, which set designer Ben Rogers wisely imitates in his bare bones setting for this production of Hamlet. The whole production is a feast for the eyes as you’d expect. It is a ballet, after all. The only words spoken on stage come from McKellen, who has lost none of his ability to take any overly familiar word, and imbue it with fresh meaning.

Filing into the auditorium, you are met with black backdrops, a white textured tapestry, and two banks of shrouded figures with tall Jacobean hats and dim candles glowing in their hands. It’s an arresting image, and sets the mood. The music, composed by Ethan Lewis Maltby, adds to the sense of impending doom. When the figures begin at last to move, and circle the performance space, you know you are about to witness tragedy. On this stage, therefore, it is possible to meet a bifurcated Hamlet, composed equally of dancer Johan Christiansen, and actor Ian McKellen. Dressed alike, varying from matching beanies, to multicolored costumes more reminiscent of court jesters than princes, the costumes aren’t always successful, but they do allow freedom of movement as McKellen, the older, wiser prince, tries to marshal the energy of Christiansen, his much younger, and much more impetuous, self. What gradually emerges in this version of Hamlet then, is a series of vignettes; dancing punctuated by the spoken word. It’s a chance to watch a series of beautiful pas de deux between Hamlet and Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude, dressed in scarlet, are also an eye-catching couple, and command attention at the centre of their court. But without Shakespeare’s words, it would be difficult to see where this tragedy is going. So much is cut from the script, and that can be frustrating. Fortunately, McKellen is on stage most of the time to guide you through the action.

As drama, this production of Hamlet is obviously incomplete. It is more successful as ballet, and the dancers of the Edinburgh Festival Ballet, under the direction of Peter Schaufuss, are beautifully choreographed. The movements are a satisfying combination of athleticism and fluidity. The grace comes just as much from the stillness as the movement, which suits a great tragedy. This production of Hamlet does indeed have a sense of ripeness—a fitting expression of the artistry of two men who have had long and extraordinary careers.

But that, paradoxically, is where the McKellen/Schaufuss Hamlet parts company with Shakespeare’s. Because we shouldn’t forget that the tragedy of Hamlet is the tragedy of a young man who never gets to become the king he should have been. And it’s the older generation, sadly, that has created the mess the prince has to clean up. McKellen’s Hamlet in this production seems to get that, but like the ghost of his father, can only prompt from the sidelines. And the energy of youth, without the experience of age, can only do so much.

See this version of Hamlet for its austere beauty. You’ll be haunted by the images and the sounds. Ghosts abound.



Reviewed 5th August 2022

by Dominica Plummer


Photography by Devin de Vil


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