Any production of Hamlet is burdened with having to grapple with Shakespeare's magisterial writing (the sheer number of quotations now embedded in the English language is extraordinary), the weight of precedent, the outsize place it has in the theatrical imagination, and the complexity of its main character. The play's timeless appeal is that it confronts us, inter alia, with questions about life and death; and with, in Prince Hamlet himself, an enigmatic lynchpin - moody teenager, procrastinating student, tortured genius and perhaps even schizophrenic.
Cosmic Arts are somewhat Shakespeare specialists, having put on half-a-dozen of his plays in the recent past. And now here they are at the foot of the cliff that is Hamlet – or more accurately on the looming battlements of Elsinore Castle, looking down - and responding with clever touches based around the video clips of projection designer William Wickoff and sound creators Alex Fleming Brown and Cassie White. Waves break on a shingle shore beneath the layout of strife-suggesting, steel scaffolding (thanks to set design by Oliver Towarek and Maya Coleborn), with the Ghost of Hamlet's Father beckoning and emoting to us as a video image, his mouth and words wholly out of sync (presumably deliberately); and in Act III The Murder of Gonzago is enacted in dumb-show on a beach by the three strolling players.
The opening tableau, the stage heaped with the post-duel carnage of the denouement and with the rest of the drama following in flashback, is also a neat idea. But I did just wonder whether these novelties have led to either some over-stretching of the resources, or diversion of the attention of Director Agnes Pethers and her colleagues, since the opening Ghost scene on the sentry-path was more than a little incoherent, owing to frailties of diction and voice projection, and these fairly fundamental requirements were noticeably lacking at a number of later junctures and from certain cast members.
Agnes has chosen to play down the court politics in the form of King Claudius' attempts to whip court opinion, and Shakespeare's portrayal of centralized authority in Denmark, and Fortinbras from Norway is omitted entirely. I thought Stepan Mysko Von Schultze's twitchy Osric, hounding Polonius with an Apple Mac, might point up the undercurrent of surveillance suggested by Hamlet's prison metaphor, but his inclusion actually signalled the production's decision to play up the comedy – Polonius' buffoonery and Hamlet's broad sallies at Ophelia and others – rather than the political statement.
Of course, any Hamlet must try to dominate the scene, and in camouflage jacket and cartoon t-shirt, Jack Parkin looks the part, is word perfect, and moves fluently. This is a hugely demanding part for any non-professional actor, and if I missed the sense of a thinker under the wry sarcasm and outbursts of frustration, Jack might be able to suggest something of that were he to slow the pace of his delivery.
In terms of speaking the glorious blank verse, Louis Cunningham's tall, commanding Claudius showed us how it can be done, and Eddie Holmes-Milner's Laertes got up a head of angry steam that was shocking in its intensity. As Polonius, Luke Malone played up the character's shortcomings to almost farcical extent; legitimately so, though I did ask myself how such a dolt could have risen to head Denmark's Civil Service.
Evelyn Waugh once mused: would you not see a hundred Hamlets pottering about Broad Street? Well maybe, but this Hamlet is neither pottering nor on Broad Street, but enlivening Parks Rd like a jumping jack, and with some modulation to the tendency to torrential textual flow, and a little more clarity of enunciation, can make a fine contribution to this term's drama output.