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Hamlet at the Cockpit Theatre, London – ‘intriguing’

Christopher Laishley, Blake Kubena, Ben Woodhall, Maryam Grace and Nicholas Limm in Hamlet at the Cockpit. Photo: Charles Ward Christopher Laishley, Blake Kubena, Ben Woodhall, Maryam Grace and Nicholas Limm in Hamlet at the Cockpit. Photo: Charles Ward

With its production of the first published edition of Hamlet, fledgling company Ilissos sets out to reclaim the ‘bad quarto’ as a performable text in its own right. Perhaps regurgitated by an actor then cobbled together by a hasty printer, this demi-Dane is at least efficient. It careers through a series of short scenes to emphasise narrative at the expense of the protracted philosophising for which the orthodox version is renowned.

This is also a downside: while plot-wranglers Rossencraft and Gilderstone get plenty of action, Nicholas Limm’s alertly quixotic Hamlet has to make do with a schoolboy precis of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy. And Gertred’s (literally) prosaic lament, affectingly delivered by Pauline Munro, is cut off by the titter-raising “So, she drowned?” from Laertes (Sam Jenkins-Shaw). More successfully, the refrain ‘To a nunnery go’ hammers this Hamlet’s point home to a frightened – if not particularly mad – Ofelia (Maryam Grace).

Among a committed ensemble cast, Alex Scrivens’ mysterious ghost has a chilling stillness and Christopher Laishley brings a warm humanity to Horatio. Infectious humour runs through the ‘play within a play’ with Hamlet the over-eager director. Yet scenes normally associated with heightened passion are oddly bloodless – brief glimpses of grief and downplayed death. Tights under rolled-up jeans hint half-heartedly at period costume while pieces of mobile staging create effective sets but are occasionally paraded inconsequentially to an incongruous bluesy soundtrack.

Is it worth more than curiosity value? Director Charles Ward wants us to reappraise this Hamlet-light; but, deprived of Shakespeare’s rich internal worlds, the cast cannot banish our desire for the real thing.

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Intriguing, stripped-back production of the first published version of Hamlet, well intentioned if not ultimately satisfying