Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

At Theatr Clwyd

Hamlet , New Theatre Cardiff , March 13, 2015
At Theatr Clwyd by Hamlet William Shakespeare’s sixteenth-century play Hamlet is probably the world’s best-known play. In a way it is a one-man play, the central character being the pinnacle of an actor’s career. Here Lee Haven- Jones grabs the character with both hands. He draws us into his emotions and we feel their highs and lows with him.

It is a sad and beautiful tale, beautifully told in this final production, marking the end of Terry Hands long and very successful tenure as Artistic Director of Clwyd Theatr Cymru. His stage is a huge black box, lit by Hands with the subtlety that has come to be expected of him. As the action progresses we see much of it reflected in the back wall and on the floor of the stage.

Claudius’ relationship with Queen of Denmark, Gertrude was probably the palace’s best-kept secret and his crime that sets off the action of the story, known to all and particularly to Gertrude’s son Hamlet. But Shakespeare knew his audiences and brings us the ghost of Hamlet’s father to get the play off to a dramatic start. And Hands does the same and he places the face of his ghost high up on the black wall at the back of the stage, from where he pierces Hamlet’s heart with this tale of Claudius’ obsessive carnality and cruelty. And so this great revenge tragedy begins.

The brightness of the brilliant white costumes dazzles as the new King, with his queen and courtiers come on to the stage. At first we don’t notice the quiet figure of Hamlet, the only one dressed in black.

Simon Dutton’s Claudius give us a strong performance, convincing us he is well capable of the dirty deed that he has executed but he, and some of the others in the cast do speak somewhat rapidly preventing us from feeling the full power of their sincerely felt emotions. He is well matched by Carol Royle’s elegant and engaging Gertrude who I feel could have given us just a touch more sensuality.

The king’s Chamberlain, Polonius, an exemplary performance by Roger Delves-Broughton discusses his son Laertes’s return to his studies in France, where he will stay until the later dramatic happenings draw him back to Denmark to sort things out. Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, who also arranged the excellently executed fight scenes, gives us an heroic and very believable Laertes whose nature is changed by the latter course of events. Gertrude attempts to offer solace to Hamlet who will have none of it.

Alone, he is already pleading with himself that “that this too too solid flesh would melt". But he is not alone in his desperation. With other palace guards his good friend Horatio comes to tell him of the ghost’s appearance. Richard Elfyn’s Horatio is another fine, manly performance. The strong vitality we see in these dynamic young men highlights the sense of the final devastation as eventually they are all destroyed by greed and passion.

We have already seen Polonius as a good father to Laertes but with his daughter, his concern with the attention, that the now incensed Hamlet, is giving her, sharpens his attitude towards her. Caryl Morgan is more than wonderful as Ophelia in both her scenes of innocence and of madness she is totally captivating and a great joy to watch.

The ‘players’ arrive and their stage is set well down stage reasserting the way Hands has directed his play directly toward us in the audience; very much as the play was performed in Shakespeare’s time. The play outrages the king. Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius and the story travels on to its tragic ending. At the end of our evening we recover from being pierced by the swords and the desperation of all that has happened and leave the theatre wrapped in Hands’ dark aesthetic for the last time.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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