‘To be or not to be’ – possibly the most famous lines ever written for the stage. This particular production of HAMLET performed at the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts was directed by Jeffery Kissoon for Black Theatre Live. For those of you who do not know or perhaps have forgotten, Hamlet is the Shakespearian tragedy of Prince Hamlet of Denmark and begins when the ghost of his father appears to him and tells him that he must avenge his murder, which was at the hands of his own brother Claudius. After much procrastination, depression and death the play ultimately ends with Hamlet dying after finally avenging his father, the cost of his waiting being the lives of his mother Gertrude, his lover Ophelia, along with her brother and father also.
Combining the traditional with the contemporary, Kissoon gave a new perspective on this well known tale. The set was simplistic yet effective, with two false marble arches and a gold tomb visible throughout as a constant reminder of the presence of the deceased king in Hamlet’s tormented mind, as well as a large disc hanging over the stage like an eye to further remind the audience of the late king’s observation. Whilst the audience entered a kind of haunting music with chanting was played to set the tone and atmosphere to follow. Music played a vital role throughout and added much life to the scene in which there is a play as the actors all blew whistles and played the drums as Hamlet danced around with great enthusiasm, noise and energy. However, as a whole, the combination of modern England and Shakespearian Denmark seemed slightly jolted and clumsy. Parts of the play seemed rushed or ill-conceived, particularly the part in which Claudius has himself flogged. This is not in the script, neither was it explained. If it was, as I suspect, a means of self-harm the character uses to show his guilt at his crimes it was too abrupt and could have been explored more deeply.
There were humorous parts to this tragic play that were well-placed and executed excellently, such as when Hamlet was asked what he was reading and he replied ‘words’ before throwing the book at the speaker and continuing until a number of books littered the stage. Unfortunately there were many parts of the performance that were unintentionally humorous such as: the ‘ominous’ voice of the deceased king ordering Horatio to swear he will not tell anyone what he has seen (it sounded like a badly done part of a cheap horror film); a skull falling off the stage and the actor asking an audience member to pick it up and hand it to him; and the death of Polonius, which seemed so melodramatic and fake that it was met with laughter.
Raphael Sowole’s performance of Hamlet was captivating and moving. When he laughed he did so with great joy and when he grieved – which was of course far more often – there were tears streaming down his face and at times a vein protruding from his neck from the effort. His portrayal of Hamlet’s descent into madness was breathtaking and believable.
A unique interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most well known tragedies, it was worth watching even if it was at times slightly wooden and awkward to watch. Overall, a brilliant performance from Sowole with occasional gems of acting from Trevor Laird, Patrick Miller and Theo Solomon as well.
Reviewed by Thomas Barrett