A beat-up, rusting red van emerges through the trees and rolls up in front of the pond in University Parks. A group of slightly ghoulish, steampunk figures jump out and string up some mismatched lights. Old leather trunks and cases are distributed, enclosing a space with a grave-like mound of dirt just off centre.
And the scene is set: Hamlet begins.
Scuffed corsets, skeleton t-shirts, heavy army boots and leather trousers. The band of five soldiers from Beetlejuice's army stand poised, only to be shaken by the loud distortion of a vengeful, erratic otherworldly spectre. Already we know Hamlet is doomed.
Or do we? As Christopher York utters Hamlet's first lines, his 'Scarborian accent and manner', as he calls it, takes us a million miles away from thoughts of ruffles and over-enunciated acting. He is strong, rebellious and cutting. Maybe Hamlet has a chance – maybe it's going to be different this time.
Creation Theatre sticks to the original language of Shakespeare but re-imagines it through a post-apocalyptic grunge aesthetic that gives the actors a muscular, scathing swagger to play with. And play they do. Clare Humphrey in particular who embodies no less than five characters including Polonius, Guildenstern and the grave-digging clown, times Shakespeare's dark wit perfectly.
There are visual gags and spirit-rousing blasts of punk rock to keep you on your toes; Muse and The Pixies stood out as they echoed across the park. The set is definitely minimal but has everything you need to picture the rotten state of Denmark. And making the most of the outdoor setting, you're often aware of figures slowly passing behind you, far from the scene but still lurking in the castle of Elsinore.
The cast are incredible, not least for their ability to switch character, mannerisms and tone in the blink of an eye. Gavin Molloy in particular has a wonderful insolence about him as Rosencrantz.
Claire Andreadis as Gertrude perhaps didn't carry the sombre weight of her character's journey quite so well. And there were a few of the more intense scenes in the second half where the anarchic, jittery vibe didn't quite deliver either. But these are minor points for what was an incredibly entertaining and energetic performance.
You should go and see this: it's clever, exciting, gritty and gripping. It's Hamlet not quite as you know it.