CONDENSING Shakespeare’s longest play into a mere 90 minutes might not sound feasible. But a trip to the Rose Theatre on Bankside proves it can be done and done well.

Martin Parr’s fresh and imaginative pared-down version of Hamlet pulls no punches, and with a cast of just five manages to pull it off.

Set in modern dress in the intimate setting of the Rose, the essence of the story is still very much there with all the famous quotes, soliloquies and drama intact.

Jonathan Broadbent is utterly brilliant in the title role, at times sitting in and with the audience, at others pacing the stage, all the while observing what is going on with an ever- increasing world weariness and despair.

As the play gathers pace, he clutches at his old radio, much as he tries to cling on to the right side of madness, anger and heartbreak. And it is through Hamlet’s battered transistor that Parr cleverly brings in the ghost – a haunting performance from Simon Russell Beale in a cameo role.

[highlighter color=”orange”]In an inspired move, Suzanne Marie takes on both Gertrude and Ophelia[/highlighter], while Liam McKenna doubles up as Polonius and a very evil and sly Claudius; Jamie Sheasby is a grave digger, Rosencrantz and Laertes. The rest – Horatio, Guildenstern and the other courtiers – are cleverly referred to either as being in the audience or as a figment of Hamlet’s imagination. Indeed, the audience is very much included in the action as Hamlet talks directly to us throughout.

It is not until towards the end of the play that the magnificence of the Rose’s archaeological site is revealed. Lit only with strings of red lights, it becomes echoey, cold and frightening all at once.

This is a fantastic and cleverly put together production and one that should not be missed.

Kate Gould

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