The vagaries of the English weather brought a premature abandonment on opening night, when high winds and lashing rain finally forced a halt to proceedings shortly before the interval.
Happily, the rain kept off the following night and this time those trudging to the hilltop setting were treated to a remarkable production of the Bard’s classic tragedy.
John Brooking’s austere, minimalist set, consisting of little more than a row of doors running the width of the stage, works well, especially beneath the moody and mysterious backdrop of the castle ruins. Set in an unspecified period - probably the late fifties - the production has a deliberate film noir feel.
Joseph Millson’s Hamlet is outstanding. His descent into apparent madness is played with rare energy and surprisingly effective humour, alternating instantly between jester and tragic victim of his uncle’s evil wiles. He delivers a truly multi-layered character, accessible yet unfathomable. Millson’s mesmeric performance is strongly supported by Louise Jameson as a regal, vulnerable Gertrude and Kellie Shirley as a beautifully fragile Ophelia. Christopher Saul is perfectly cast as the pompous Polonius, as is Fergus O’Donnell as the solid Horatio.
Bill Buckhurst’s inspired direction ensures that tensions and emotions ebb and flow powerfully throughout the performance, though the final tragic death scene - always a difficult challenge - needs a greater injection of raw passion.
That said, producer Derrick Gask provides a delightfully staged, inspired and accessible production that brings a new vibrancy to Shakespeare’s work that can only enhance the ever-growing reputation of this prestigious annual festival.