As Hamlet – played by Michelle Terry, launching into her second production at the helm of Shakespeare’s Globe by casting herself as the Dane – first appeared on stage, I was prepared to be moved. It was as if he had bottled up all the guilt and remorse of Denmark and laid it bare. Unfortunately, that was as compelling as this production got as we embarked on a relatively tame production.
Terry’s Hamlet is a clown descending into madness: white powdered face, red lipstick smile and a bright, baggy suit (and Terry’s curly hair only adds to the appearance), he has a maniacal quality about him. Like a loud, brash teenager who doesn’t seem contemplate or grasp his emotions. His madness is a cover-up of the sobbing boy we first met, which does creep out every now and again.
This also makes the famous soliloquy loses its power, its shock factor. He no longer seems like someone genuinely considering taking his own life, but instead one lecturing the audience on the philosophy of suicide. A collective inward breath is audible as the speech begins, but the tension soon fizzles out.
And there is a real lack of atmosphere throughout the production, but for a few moments including a brilliantly tense staging of the players’ play, as drums and percussion thump around the Globe’s courtyard and echo through the theatre. A nice touch, but given Terry’s Globe Ensemble have been given a lot of freedom on the text, but despite there being two named directors – Federay Holmes and Elle White – the result is a rather unimaginative show, but there is some good character work in other areas.
James Garnon brings a real human quality to Claudius, while Helen Schlesinger drags Gertrude down to the depths of despair to great effect. Richard Katz provides moments of comic relief as an almost bumbling Polonius, but while the audience warm to his humour, it does make the production jar slightly.
Adrian Woodward and his band take the music down a tribal root, with some bluesy jazz numbers scattered here and there, while Ellan Parry's costumes see Hamlet donning flowers and neck ties on his suit as his madness becomes apparent, a clever mirror the Fool’s costume in As You Like It which is a nice touch, but I’m not sure you’d pick up on that if you viewed these as separate productions.
Interpreting two big plays with the same 12 players with such an open interpretation to the text was a pretty bold thing for Terry to programme to open the season. The ensemble certainly has a character about it, it’s soulful, musical and funny, but it would seem it might need to delve a bit deeper to produce a more cohesive, convincing tragedy.
Photo credit Tristram Kenton