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Theatre: Hamlet, Leeds Playhouse

A gender-swapping production of Shakespeare’s tragedy disappoints

WOMEN have been cast in the role of Hamlet since the late 1800s but it’s only in recent years that there’s been a trend towards them playing the role as the Princess, rather than Prince, of Denmark.

That shift is reflected in their assuming positions of authority and being open about their sexuality and so it is in this production, with director Amy Leach regendering many of the other key characters.

Tessa Parr’s Hamlet is a rebellious youth — emphasised by her non-royal leisure wear — who returns home from university to attend the king’s funeral and, in a silent prologue, spars with Horatio (Crystal Condie) before being visited by her father’s ghost.

Parr goes on to battle with finding the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language, with her northern accent only really matching its poetry as her sanity comes into question. And, as she plots the staging of the dumb show to ascertain the guilt or innocence of Claudius by studying his reaction, she appears drunk rather than insane.

The characters have been reduced — there’s a Rosencrantz but no Guildenstern — along with a simplification of some of the staging, which comes in at a streamlined two-and-a-half hours. While this might concentrate attention on the drama, all too often it places its enactment in an unforgiving light.

Susan Twist as Polonius has the arch diction of a power-dressing socialite who’s used to being heard and Robert Pickavance’s Ghost comes across as a zombie android, while Joe Alessis’s Claudius lacks royal authority and is often difficult to hear.

The unintended consequence is reducing the play from taut psychological drama to one that’s somewhat pedestrian.

Runs until March 30, box office:


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