Creation have chosen to give Hamlet a theme, rather than a specific historical setting. It’s become a modern gothic, with the younger cast members decked out like a gloomy rock band, Claudius and Gertrude as their seedy managers. Ophelia and Horatio suit the look best, with glorious monochrome dreads for the former, and a wasted dandy look for the latter.
The theme is backed up by frequent incidental music from fatalistic pop groups like My Chemical Romance, Mogwai, and Radiohead. It made me think of how romantic about death young people can be, which links in nicely with some of Hamlet’s famous soliloquies. The concept of death is ever-present, but when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern turn up dressed up in skeleton suits and masks, you feel the point is perhaps being laboured slightly.
In general, the play is performed in a bold, broad, clear fashion, and those who are less familiar with the plot will find it easy to follow. Sometimes, however, individual lines or words are rather over-egged, particularly when it’s a line they’re trying to get a laugh out of. This makes certain scenes, such as the gravedigger scene, slightly annoying.
Gary Shelford is energetic and forceful as Hamlet, nipping round the stage like a mountain goat so we all get to hear his speeches. My favourite performance, however, was Simon Poole playing Claudius. He’s great, giving the role a cool, creepy charm that reminded me, weirdly, of Richard Madeley.
Going to open-air Shakespeare in Oxford is always fun, and it doesn’t have to be one of the comedies in a college garden. The setting, atmosphere, and choice of play make this a very different experience, though it’s essentially still enjoyable, accessible Shakespeare.