HAMLET | London, Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre Company’s shouty new production has cut all the adult roles, and cut Shakespeare’s infamously long script down to a tight 100 minutes.

The programme tells us that, for this production, Elsinore is a theatre space: a place where young people come together, perhaps as a youth theatre company, support network, community hub, or drama therapy session. But it’s a dystopian one. A disembodied, emotionless voice (Micha Colombo) commands the company of young actors to perform their piece — over and over again, it would seem — with an actor dying each time it’s put on. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t quite work in practice, because the framing device is only used at the very beginning and the end, and seems to bear no relevancy on the rest of the production.

What does work is the purely theatrical moments, most notably in the play-within-a-play, where Lucianus (Sam Morris) is an evil, spindle-fingered night-demon. The appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father (also Sam Morris) is also aptly theatrical, and quite frightening.

But director Ricky Dukes has asked all his actors to perform the play shouting. The auditorium is not large, so this is an artistic choice, not an acoustic necessity. The problem is that when Ophelia (Lexine Lee) sings a quiet song and then quietly dies, it doesn’t feel like a tragedy, so much as a welcome respite from the play’s sound and fury. There is something sort of proto-genius about this production, but somehow the final product just doesn’t work.

Playing at the Southwark Playhouse 12 January – 4 February 2023.

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