Hamnet deconstructs Shakespeare's status (4 stars)


A beautiful meditation on youth, truth and theatre

Written and directed by Bush Mourkazel and Ben Kidd (with some help from The Bard) this anti-play sets out its stall early, with a camera trained on the audience. Ollie West, the eleven-year-old performer, is Hamnet, learning speeches from his near namesake Hamlet with some assistance from a 'guilty-looking' audience member (tonight, it's playwright Alan McKendrick) and looking up Elizabethan word definitions on Google.

West is a wonderfully deadpan presence, affecting adult traits and dishing out sardonic asides. Jose Miguel Jimenez' video design integrates live filming with superimposed images to startling effect, bringing a virtual ghostly figure to the screen, brilliantly wrong-footing any expectations about the format of the performance. What seems a knockabout, almost stand-up show soon becomes a far richer study in the ephemeral nature of youth, the vulnerability of the lone actor onstage seeking affirmation in applause, and a riposte to the father who has abandoned his son (Hamnet was the real son of William Shakespeare, who died aged 11). Death itself is a constant presence – a child's skull is used in the famous 'infinite jest' scene.

There is much to savour here, from the use of technology, the deconstruction of a Shakespeare classic, to West's mature performance. It may lose its footing towards the end – the references to Trump feel crass and inappropriate, and the Johnny Cash line-dancing grates – but in the main, it's a life-affirming, complex piece asking the audience to reconsider the Bard's status as national treasure, and how child actors can be rendered as disposable as props.

Take Me Somewhere runs until Mon 4 Jun.

Take Me Somewhere

A festival of contemporary performance, taking place across Glasgow and building on the legacy of the arts programme at the city's late but legendary venue, The Arches. Take Me Somewhere features events created through a programme of artistic development opportunities as well as inspirational work from beyond Scotland.

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