Bard in the Botanics: Hamlet (4 stars)

Bard in the Botanics: Hamlet

credit: Tom Duncan

Near flawless adaptation of Shakespeare's play about madness and mortality

A sparse rendering of Hamlet by Gordon Barr – who both directs and creates the set design here – means that the emphasis is placed primarily on the superb dialogue. Essentially, 'the play's the thing', and it's hardly surprising given the considerable heft of the cast.

Nicole Cooper, taking on the iconic titular role, but now of course in female form, gives as chilling a depiction of grief as befits a character of such status.

She's truly exceptional, bringing depth and nuance to an often misunderstood figure. Her Hamlet never descends into hand-wringing clichés, and is instead a woman trying to hold it together as her world crumbles around her.

The subtleties extend to the psychological games played within the family, which Barr draws out like a poison. Gertrude (a wonderfully versatile Helen Logan) here depicted as a narcissistic mother and vacuous social climber, once so haughty, is slowly, systematically undone by Hamlet's visions.

Alan Steele is an effectively eerie apparition covered in dust, and equally amusing as Polonius, the verbose counsellor to the king. And Claudius, the new King of Denmark, brother to the late king, is given appropriate patriarchal and steely eyed swagger by Alan Mirren.

As the madness and toxicity starts to spread and engulf everyone, particularly Stephanie McGregor as the small, increasingly vulnerable Ophelia, it's like watching a mighty building explode in slow motion.

It all plays out like a particularly vivid nightmare. Only the witty puppet theatre scene provides brief respite from a fiery, powerful production which grips from the beginning and refuses to let go.

Bard in The Botanics, Glasgow, until Sat 3 Aug.

Bard in the Botanics

Scotland's annual outdoor Shakespeare festival returns to Glasgow's Botanic Gardens.