Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 13 Oct
The widespread belief that society is in deep moral decline is hardly unique to our age – indeed, there have been few times in history when this wasn’t a preoccupation of the public at large. What makes our society a little more unique, and renders Guy Hollands’ production of this oft seen classic relevant, is an explicit connection between personal moral disintegration and the political elite. What’s made plain from the up is that Hamlet’s dilemma, though personal, is also a symptom of a collective nervous breakdown across a country in frequent states of war.
In bringing Hamlet’s (Andrew Clark) ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy to the very opening of the play, Hollands’ concept seems at first to signal that his Hamlet’s neurosis is personal, coming from the astonishing haste with which his mother (Fletcher Mather) has replaced his dead father with the (here egregiously unpleasant) Claudius (John Kazek). But as things progress, it becomes increasingly apparent that neither this, nor his callous treatment of Ophelia (Samantha Young), nor even the vengeful reappearance of Laertes (Mark Wood) can be divorced from the political collapse, which, in many productions is backgrounded.
The upshot is a solidly enjoyable, but not overly subtle production. Jonathon Southgate’s design, which shows a broken and dilapidated castle beneath a great brass triangle, blasted through with canonshot and overhanging the more political scenes like the judgement of some implacable God is impressive, if, like some of the action, it leaves little to the imagination. So too, the constant snogging and fondling in front of the court, and even Hamlet himself, between Kazek’s and Mather’s incestuous parents might over-make the point about their villainy, even given strong performances from both. So too there might be a bit more bellowing than is necessary between the characters. All this said, Clark’s Dane is strong and serviceable, showing a nuanced psychological awareness of his character. Indeed, the performances generally are strong, in a night of theatre that entertains and challenges, but perhaps requires the sound to be turned down a couple of notches.