I saw three performances of Northern Ballet's Hamlet over the weekend, with three different casts.
The action has been transposed from Denmark to the occupied Paris of the second world war. It is a very bleak, dark place to be and terror is everywhere.
Chris Giles set is magnificent - moving walls/staircases that are used in a variety of ways and really add to the heavy oppresive atmosphere.
Hamlet is returning from the war to the occupied city. His father has been executed and his mother has married his uncle. He is a tortured soul who seems very ambivalent towards Ophelia. Her father, Polonius makes her reject Hamlet as he wants her to have a relationship with one of the occupying forces. Hamlet realises that his uncle, Claudius, has been instrumental in his father's death and seeks revenge. They all die as the liberation of Paris happens.
The action starts in the train station as Hamlet is returning home. The station is busy as everyone is rushing around, trying very hard to be inconspicious. Hamlet starts having flashbacks to the day he and his friends went to war and these flashbacks are intermingled with the present day. This all adds to the claustrophobia of the piece. I think the work is perhaps over-plotted and you may need to read the synopsis in the programme. If you haven't, perhaps it doesn't matter because the flashback incidents just add to the chaos of the railway station. The main confrontations between Hamlet and his mother Gertrude and Claudius are all there. His relationship with Ophelia collapses and she loses her mind. Polonius is accidentally killed and the killing goes on .......
There is some wonderfully tense and confrontational choreography for the main protagonists. For me, the highlight is the final duet between Gertrude and Claudius, where she is pleading for Hamlet's life. It is absolutely breathtaking.
The opening night honours went to Toby Batley as Hamlet, Georgina May as Ophelia, Vicky Sibson as Gertrude and Darren Goldsmith as Claudius. What can I say, it was utterly magnificent. It is difficult to say that you have "enjoyed" something so bleak but it is a mesmerising and powerful piece of dance drama that should not be missed.
The cast on Saturday afternoon saw Ashley Dixon as Hamlet, Pippa Moore as Ophelia, Hannah Bateman as Gertrude and Javier Torres as Claudius.
Saturday evening saw Hiro Takahashi as the eponymous hero, Dreda Blow as Ophelia, Martha Leebolt as Gertrude and Kenneth Tindall as Claudius.
It was interesting to see the three different interpretations and all three performances were supberb. Toby Batley was tortured throughout implying perhaps that there had already been something wrotten in the state before he went to war; Ashley Dixon introduced some lightness to the role showing happier times before the war; Hiro Takahashi was perhaps not quite as tortured but that just made the tragedy all the more compelling.
All the company were committed to the performance and all contributed greatly to the atmosphere.
In conclusion, Northern Ballet's Hamlet is a bleak but extremely powerful piece of dance drama that is unmissable. Go see it! It's at the wonderful West Yorkshire Playhouse until 17th September and then at the Lyceum in Sheffield for a week.