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Hamlet review at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York – ‘a production of clarity’

The cast of Hamlet at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre, York. Photo: Charlotte Graham

Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre is back in York for the summer, with the central Clifford’s Tower site playing host to this pop-up venue and its community of food huts, drinks stalls and souvenir shops.

With wood chippings underfoot and a faux olde-worlde feel, there’s a danger it could all seem a bit gimmicky. The quality of Damian Cruden’s production of Hamlet therefore comes as a pleasant surprise.

Sara Perks’ gorgeous costumes set the tone; her designs are historically appropriate but have a restrained, contemporary elegance. The set is similarly pared-back, perhaps as a practical necessity as Twelfth Night, Henry V and The Tempest are also playing in rep throughout the summer period.

David Oakes plays Hamlet with natural ease: he is clearly comfortable with the cadences of the language and he conveys meaning well. Marcello Cruz also impresses as Laertes, as confident vocally as he is in movement. The duel between the two characters (fight direction by Jonathan Holby) is thrilling and expertly executed.

Roles often play to the actors’ strengths. Antony Bunsee amuses as an energetic Player King and Fine Time Fontayne’s pantomime experience comes through as he portrays the ghost and a gravedigger. Meanwhile, Ophelia (Serena Manteghi) could almost be a modern teenager, huffing and sassily answering back.

There’s nothing especially radical here and the pacing occasionally drags, especially before the interval. But Cruden’s direction brings clarity and cohesion to a challenging play with a large cast.

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Contemporary flashes enhance a traditional staging at York’s Rose Theatre pop-up