It’s a crowded Shakespeare season this summer, but take time to leave the city centre and head up to University Parks, where, in their big top theatre tent (fear not the weather), English Repertory Theatre is taking on the giant – Hamlet himself.
Appropriately enough for this most iconic of English set texts, we are back at school, with Hamlet and Ophelia passing notes in Mr Horatio’s class and rioting openly through Mr Polonius’ drama lesson. The talented cast attack the well-worn words with fervour, scattering school-desks and teetering through teenage meltdowns to a backdrop of turgid school disco stompers.
Claudius (Peter Rae) is particularly fine as an autocratic, barely sane, sublimely creepy headmaster, always ready to lapse into incoherent frothing or inappropriate touching. Daniel D’Arbon (Horatio) is every inch the popular teacher, proud of his subject and with a soft spot for the problem kids. The sharply telescoped story (it clocks at an impressive 80 minutes) still allows Nina Bright to shine as a sparky, sensitive Ophelia, while classroom clowns Laertes and Rosencrantz (given an involving and original take by Charlotte Ellen) communicate perfectly the horror of being caught up in an awful, unstoppable unfolding tragedy.
But the crown belongs to Rachel Waring’s Hamlet, uncontrollable and impossible, played with all the awful rawness of youth; she stampedes through the production, in turns hilarious and tragic, laying waste to the rotten institution of Elsinore, with royal teenage disregard to human cost and collateral damage. The simplicity, energy and sheer pace keeps you locked to the story, as the cast pass from scene to scene with the slick speed of relay runners passing a baton.
This bonkers breakneck riotous chop and paste of the Dane will have you crying and laughing (sometimes both at once). Arrive early to catch the ice-cream van.