Jenet Le Lacheur - courtesy Iris Theatre
Cast and creatives
Jenet Le Lacheur - Hamlet
Clare Bloomer - Gertrude
Vinta Morgan - Claudius
Paula James - Polonius
Jenny Horsthuis - Ophelia
Joe Parker - Laertes
Harold Addo - Horatio
Hamlet is back from university; back home to a cold little island hanging on to the edge of Europe.
Everything has changed; his country is in crisis; his father is dead; and his uncle, a right-wing strongman, has seized power.
Amidst all this chaos his mother has committed the ultimate betrayal.
As paranoia and rumor swirl around the fractured state, the truth is becoming ever more distant and unknowable.
"To be or not to be, that is the question …"
But can Hamlet find any answers before his own doubts and fears eat him alive?
This modern promenade production will place Shakespeare's greatest tragedy within a contemporary context that will illuminate both the play and our own relationship with its timeless themes.
Director Daniel Winder transports the Prince of Denmark to our very own native shores for this (largely) open air version of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Massive banners adorn the lovely gardens of St Paul's Church, sporting the deep crimson that often seems beloved by right wing politicians.
Given the continuing political events in real-life Britain, it's not hard to see that Mr Winder is giving us a strong hint that the nation has fallen victim to the politics of the extreme!
In his England, politics is taken a step even beyond the real-life, endless outpouring of politics - we find political broadcasts here even starting at the unwelcome time of 6 am every morning!
And we see pre-recorded broadcasts and video messages on the numerous small screens dotted around the church grounds as we promenade between scenes, some of which take place within the Inigo Jones designed church itself.
Shakespeare's story (if you're not already familiar with it) centres on Prince Hamlet whose father has recently died.
The throne has been seized by Hamlet's uncle Claudius, who we find marrying Hamlet's mother at the start of the play (so handy to have the church standing by for the ceremony).
Then, the ghost of Hamlet's dead father fetches up to reveal that he was murdered.
That pushes Hamlet to the brink of madness while wrestling with how to respond to this new-found knowledge.
Photo: Jenet Le Lacheur (Hamlet)
Initially, the entertainers in Covent Garden Piazza seemed intent on creating a kind of war with proceedings within the confines of the Actors' Church, but Shakespeare's longest play soon (and pretty easily) outmatched the endurance of the nearby rivals.
And at one point, a couple of visiting seagulls appeared (possibly from continental Europe) but seemed to have been misinformed - their loud witch-like cackling being more appropriate to Macbeth.
But, hey, this is outdoor theatre, so a bit of extraneous noise now and then is all part of the rich tapestry of this concept.
To be fair and accurate, there were few irritations in the unwanted sounds department on this occasion and, especially in the second half, we could focus on some well-judged and interesting performances from the likes of Vinta Morgan as Claudius, and Clare Bloomer as Gertrude.
Non-binary transgender actor, Jenet Le Lacheur, tackles the title role here with ample spirited energy, and leaves us appropriately in doubt about the true nature of Hamlet's mental state.
Madness, gender and politics are the central features in Daniel Winder's modernist production that makes good use of both the indoor and external space, and culminates in a neatly effective fight scene arranged by fight choreographer Nathaniel Marten.
Gender swapping in roles is so commonplace these days that it almost seems odd even mentioning it.
But Polonius becomes a woman here (well-played by Paula James) and Hamlet is sometimes referred to (a little confusingly, perhaps) in the feminine as 'Lady' and sometimes as 'Lord'.
That really doesn't make much difference to the play as a whole - for what really matters is what the characters say and do, and the seven-strong ensemble are all in confident form, ably realising beliveable personalities.
There's also a touch of the zany here, exemplified in the somewhat outlandish costumes of the 'players', and the king's ghost looks like the result of a union between a snow-person and an alien from an old B movie.
At a few minutes short of 3 hours, this Hamlet might present an endurance challenge for some but I've seen longer, and the time actually sped by in a wholly satisfying evening that injects a dose of modern reality and relevance into Shakespeare's famous tragedy.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Iris Theatre
Our show listing for Hamlet
Read our reviews' policy