And they keep coming. Hamlet is never far from the London stage but lately productions have been stacking up like the capital’s buses. Hot on the heels of David Tennant, Jude Law, and most recently Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre, the Young Vic is gearing up for Michael Sheen’s take on the character in the autumn. The Globe Theatre’s new touring production, dropping into the home venue for a short run before heading out for a programme of regional and international dates, goes a different route from these star vehicles, with a small-scale ensemble production put together by artistic director Dominic Dromgoole.
Unlike his glorious Henry IV double bill last season, Dromgoole’s take on Hamlet is short on insight and looks as if it has been knocked together in a matter of minutes. It’s more an illustration of the plot, the painting of a sorrow (turning cartoony at times), with a rustic, knockabout quality that lends it a certain accessibility.
His lead actor is the puckish Joshua McGuire, who flits about like a sparrow in a cathedral, never quite filling the space or the role. He gets a good rapport with the audience but seems, at the Globe at least, to be playing to the gallery with his head in a constant heavenwards direction. Gertrude (Amanda Hadingue) plays the violin (it’s that sort of production) and lightning-fast changes of hats or cloaks keep the cast of eight on its toes. Simon Armstrong is a hard-working Claudius/Ghost/Player King, although a lack of differentiation between the characters might confuse those not too familiar with the text.
Jonathan Fensom’s design consists of a travelling stage, which sits on top of the Globe’s existing structure; the tricky scenario of doubling-actors performing the play-within-a-play to themselves is cleverly handled with the use of a curtain which switches the action back and forth.
Coming in at under two and a half hours playing time, this is a trimmed version of the play but it doesn’t always feel it. A lack of any real exploration of the text makes it feel static and a bit of a haul. If you like your Shakespeare played absolutely straight, with not a directorial frill or furbelow in sight, it might just do.
The production tours locations in the UK and Europe before a brief re-visit to the Globe in July and Elsinore for the grand finale.