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Northern Ballet Theatre

‘Hamlet’

February 2008
Leeds, Grand Theatre

by Janet McNulty



© Dee Conway

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I believe that one of the reasons that Shakespeare continues to be performed is that many of his plays are still relevant to the present. David Nixon has chosen to set his new production of Hamlet in Nazi-occupied Paris but it could equally have been set, for example, in ex-Yugoslavia or even the Middle East.

Hamlet is a dark tale of betrayal and death and this production admirably brings these themes across. Hamlet is a French soldier, returning from the war to occupied Paris and in mourning for his dead father. The ballet starts with a dream sequence that introduces the main characters and sets the oppressive atmosphere of the occupied city. From there we see the main elements of the Hamlet story, Hamlet realising that his mother has married his Uncle and suspecting that his father has been murdered. From there the elements of the tragedy build up to the final conclusion - yes it's Hamlet and they all die!

The set consists of stairs with balustrades that move into different positions to suggest the various locations. This works really well, apart from (in my opinion) the scene for Gertrude and Claudius where the bedroom/bathroom revolve almost like a Whitehall farce. The set is dark and the lighting is striking. I saw the performance from the dress circle and it really is worth it to see the effects of the lighting. The costumes look very realistic for the period and the girls' dresses drape beautifully. Gertrude has one particularly stunning red dress. Chris Giles has really designed a winning set and costumes.

The score has been commissioned from long-time NBT collaborator Philip Feeney and really captures the mood, setting the Parisian scene with what I would identify as typically Parisian accordian music in one place. I hope a recording is made available as it is terrific.

With the plot pared down to the essential elements, most of the action is for the leading characters of Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius and Laertes. There is some ensemble work and crowd scene setting for the rest of the company. The choreography is very contemporary in style and there is very little pointe work. There is a beautiful duet for Hamlet and Ophelia that is a huge contrast to the almost bestial coupling of Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet's soliloquy is brilliant.
 


Christopher Hinton–Lewis as Hamlet and Nathalie Leger as Gertrude in Hamlet
© Dee Conway


The performance from all the dancers was absolutely stunning. Martin Bell as Polonius commanded the stage with all the gravity of an elder statesman while Darren Goldsmith, as Claudius was a really nasty, fratricidal Uncle to Hamlet. Hiro Takahashi was a virtuoso tour-de-force as Laertes. Georgina May was as light as swans' down dancing Ophelia with sweet tragedy and Natalie Leger was magnificent as Gertrude. Her characterisation was multi-layered and intelligent, showing her love of her son but equally being complicit with Claudius. Chris Hinton-Lewis was triumphant is Hamlet; his tortured soul was heart-rending, particularly in the "to be or not to be" solo when he is contemplating suicide.

This is a dark tale darkly told and it is hard to say that I enjoyed it but I did find it dramatic and absolutely compelling. I found Act 2 mesmerising. I think it is a work that will stand repeated viewing and I look forward to seeing it again at the end of the run in Milton Keynes. It deserves to be a huge success. Well done to David and the whole company.

It should be noted that this production does contain some graphic violence and is not suitable for children.


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