Given a recent glut of high profile Hamlets, it is exhilarating to find a smaller-scale production as focused and vivid as any of them. Director Kelly Hunter’s economical adaptation has a breakneck pace, stripping the text down to its most iconic moments and condensing the action into a single, bloody night. These accelerations lend the show a powerful sense of urgency, turning familiar plot points into a barrage of heightened moments.
At times, it can be overwhelming. Ophelia’s swerve into madness at the instant of her father’s murder is jarring, even if Francesca Zoutewelle gives an extraordinary, feral performance. Likewise Tom Mannion’s whisky-swigging, ukulele-strumming Claudius starts out deceptively jovial, before suffering a stomach turning bout of guilt later on.
This visceral quality suffuses the entire play, with actors wailing, gagging and spluttering out their grief. As a mercurial Hamlet, Mark Quartley crawls and cavorts through a fitful possession by his father’s ghost. A moment later, he is all remorse and glassy-eyed desolation, numbed by his own roiling emotions. If some interpretations prefer to leave a question mark over the Prince’s relative sanity, there is no doubt that he is truly troubled here.
Anthony Lamble’s design is just as spare as the script, relying on little more than a leather sofa to create an austere yet claustrophobic Elsinore. As with the show as a whole, a few well-placed elements go a long way. With its distilled intensity, this production achieves a rare and resonant clarity.