Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hamlet - New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Conrad Nelson
Reviewer  Lorna Andrewes
[Rating 4/5]
A little about Northern Broadsides first.One of their great characteristics has been the fine vocal qualities displayed over the years by members of the company. There is no reason to assume that either northern English or Southern sounds in itself better than the other, but perhaps the company's (originally deliberate) use of northern speech put special attention on the overall sound of their voices.

The result has been a superior resonance and gravity that has reinforced the power of expression in its production. For me some of this was missing in the early stages.
The excellent programme notes tell us that this tale has been known in various forms over several hundred years and in many countries. It is possibly the most frequently produced of Shakespeare's works, so it's hard to think what there can be that is new. As usual, Northern Broadsides have succeeded in refreshing this old favourite.
The opening of the play was its least successful element, the air-raid sirens added nothing and I found their inclusion puzzling. The ghostly pipes heralding the appearances of the dead King, Hamlet's father, worked better and the'nod' towards bunraki puppetry for the ghost was one of many clever production moments.Throughout this production Conrad Nelson's music played a major role and is used with skill. I particularly liked the two renditions of Ophelia's valentine song, one in happy times and one when her sanity was crumbling.
This production was a little stilted and rushed for the first ten or so minutes, but it then engaged me and drew me in The company has strenghth in depth, but Hamlet, played by Nicholas Shaw in his first outing for Northern Broadside, was superb, showing all facets of Hamlet vividly.
I had wondered what could be done to set his soliloquy apart from the many others. The chalking onto the stage of a be/not to be flow chart was inspired and helped Nicholas Shaw to make the speech his own.
Ophelia, played by Natalie Dew, gave another strong performance throughout, convincingly potraying the gradual destruction of a girl who had seemed confident and stable. Gertrude, played by Becky Hindley, and Claudius, played by Fine Time Fontayne, seemed to take a while to to flow, but, particularly in the later scenes they gave very fine portrayals of their characters.
The stage set was spare but exactly right for the production style and along with clever use of corridors and doors outside the 'round', facilitated easy understanding of the various changes of scene throughout.

All in all, this was an interesting production which worked for me after its shaky start. By the end, I found myself moved at Hamlet's death, and if any company can achieve that in its audience with such  a familiar play, then they've achieved their purpose.
This was my first visit to the New Vic, so a word in its praise. It,s a great space, intimate and warm, so in spite of the distance, I'll probably be back , especially having seen their tempting forthcoming repertory programme.

Runs until 19th March
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