Hamlet at Iris Theatre
Set in a woefully undeveloped near-future dictatorship, sitting through the entirety of Daniel Winder’s Hamlet feels like being subjected to indiscriminate torment at the hands of a power-hungry director.
The audience take their seats outside St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Before the church doors, Rosencrantz stands guard with a sub-machine gun to witness the apparition of Hamlet’s late father. He films the ghost on a mobile and shows it to Hamlet (Jenet Le Lacheur) – end of Act I, scene I.
We’re unexpectedly asked to move to the West Garden where Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, the new King, is delivering a morning address to the nation. If this transition sounds odd, the audience thinks so too. Here is a list of times we were asked to move, with approximate minutes into the play.
St Paul’s Entrance (00:00)
West Garden (00:20)
St Paul’s Entrance (00:30)
Inside the Church (01:00)
East Garden (01:40)
West Garden (02:00)
East Garden (02:15)
West Garden (02:35)
Inside the Church (sometime towards the end)
An older couple struggles to navigate a too-dark garden path; an old man gains unsteady momentum down ill-lit plastic stairs with no handrail; elderly groups stand at the back, unsure where to sit after being moved from their chosen seats. And for what? A gimmick – a hurried “garden experience”? After sunset, the birds in St Paul’s garden sing their criticisms wittingly.
Director Winder sought to mix up gender roles – fine, that’s been done for 400 years. As Hamlet, Le Lacheur brings a new dimension. No longer a cisgender male prince, Hamlet isn’t just played by a transfeminine actor, Horatio repeatedly refers to “him” as “My Lady”. However, this scripting choice feels insufficiently explored and difficult to understand – everyone else calls him “My Lord” and he’s mad with love for Ophelia. If fictional gender is treated haphazardly, without explication, it forms a confusing narrative.
As a result, Iris Theatre’s Hamlet demands intertextual understanding: its audience must draw on existing story knowledge and map that onto an under-developed manifestation of its protagonist. Its one strength is that it challenges audiences to consider a transgender perspective. But given the play’s many, many failures, this isn’t sufficient.
Hamlet is at Iris Theatre from 19th June until 27th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.