Hamlet at the National Theatre
Considered one of the most prominent works by William Shakespeare, Hamlet is a lengthy tragedy that has undergone numerous adaptations and retellings over the years. This particular production by Jude Christian and directed by Tinuke Craig has been reimagined at the National Theatre for a primary school age audience, condensing the three hour play into an energetic feat that tips just over sixty minutes.
A cast of eight creatives tell the story of Hamlet’s father’s death. The play opens up with a sombre funeral cortege, complete with flowered wreaths. Hamlet (Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer) grips onto one that says “Dad” and the entire auditorium feels the grief from a shocked and mournful son. The story then moves on swiftly with Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Claire Redcliffe) accepting an elaborate engagement proposal from his Uncle Claudios (Vedi Roy) before the room livens up, an impromptu conga line forms and their wedding party starts.
There’s lots of light and shade within the performance that keeps it entertaining for the younger audience. When Hamlet is visited by his father’s ghost (cleverly puppeteered by a team of four), ripples of genuine fear and gasps can be heard before some quip or fun-filled dance has them all back giggling within seconds. The brightly coloured costumes, kitsch chessboard dance floor and 80s LED strip lights from set designer Frankie Bradshaw, are also a bold and clever way to rework Shakespeare’s magic onto this school-aged tribe.
Christian gives the two sisters, Ophelia (Jessica Alade) and Laertes (Chanel Waddock), some time on centre stage. The sibling dynamic is played out well, with mocking tones towards their father Polonius (David Ahmad) and an affection that seems so real. Waddock shines bright like a diamond. Her brilliant displays of emotion, after learning her father has been killed and Ophelia has drowned herself after being rebuked by Hamlet’s affection, are utterly convincing and feel authentic to the core.
It’s tricky to engage young people in the intensity of Shakepeare’s language, so while “To be or not to be” has made the grade, plenty of other lines have been dropped or replaced. There’s enough music, crowd interaction and bubble machinery galore to keep the audience involved, and enough texture and soul to ensure this adaptation’s messages of grief and morality get across well too.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Hamlet is at the National Theatre from 4th April until 6th April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.