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Theatre Review A suspension of disbelief too far

PETER MASON sees a laudably gender-blind production of Hamlet marred by unconvincing performances

Hamlet
The Globe, London

 

THE GLOBE’s artistic director Michelle Terry not only steps out of her day job to take part in this production but essays the bold move of playing Hamlet herself. In so doing, she puts into practice the theatre’s new gender-blind policy which sees around half of the roles in the play taken on by actors whose sex is the opposite of their character.

 

With Horatio, Laertes, Guildenstern and even Ophelia all played by members of a different gender, the 12-strong Globe ensemble, working collectively on this venture, clearly see this Hamlet as a statement of casting intent.

 

Where they appear less clear-headed, though, is in playing a dark and doom-laden classic in a deadpan and fast-paced fashion, with Terry portraying Hamlet as a clownish, almost comedic protagonist who comes across more like a moody teenager than the tortured, insightful young man of staging tradition.

 

The rest of the cast plays in a similarly light and strangely unanimated vein and as a consequence most of the brooding, haunted quality of the play disappears. As the actors collectively struggle to find its emotional core, their principal response to the demands of extra depth or gravitas seems to be to deliver their words as loudly as possible.

 

Shouting is a temptation at the open-air Globe, with its unamplified sound and its intrusive external noise — the air traffic overhead was especially bad at the performance I saw. But it is no substitute for subtlety and, paradoxically, often makes it more difficult for the audience to pick out the words.

 

Perhaps that might have explained the considerable amount of fidgeting in the crowd on a night when most of the actors, with the admirable exceptions of James Garnon as Claudius and Jack Laskey as Francisco/Fortinbras, appeared unable to grab the attention.

 

Inevitably, this production raises the question of whether Hamlet can usefully be played by a woman, or indeed, whether Ophelia can be portrayed by a man. The answer has to be that it shouldn’t really make a difference. Acting, after all, is about pretending to be someone you are not.

 

But there's an extra suspension of belief required when a woman plays a man or vice versa and the pretence needs to be of such a high order that the audience is aware only of the performance and not of the artifice behind it.

 

Unfortunately, in this instance the Globe ensemble and Terry in particular have not been able to achieve that.

 

Runs until August 26, box office: shakespearesglobe.com

 

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