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Hamlet

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Opening Hamlet with the ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy is a risky strategy. Shakespeare’s most famous riff on life, the universe and everything puts the spotlight squarely on the capabilities or otherwise on whichever young turk has braved the title role. Having the dynamic and versatile Andrew Clark as Hamlet hold his palm aloft a burning candle to see what pain feels like suggests he’s a more every-day self-absorption than is usual.

Director Guy Hollands goes further in this big, black production, set on what looks part walled arena, part run-down dockland, where, while retaining a loose hotch-potch of period trappings, he attempts to debunk the clichés of set-text routines.

Out goes the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern double act, leaving only Sam Heughan’s gentrified Guildenstern to carry the can, while Samantha Young similarly highlights Ophelia’s retreat into infantilism in a more close-up form. How the court scenes came to be back-dropped by what looks like a bronze sculpture of a giant cheese triangle with bullet-holes nibbled through it, though, is anybody’s guess.

Elsewhere, Barrie Hunter’s Polonious is a donnish buffoon, while sexed up newlyweds Claudius and Gertrude’s can barely keep their hands off each other, embarrassing their sulky boy in a way only adolescents know how.

Clark’s Hamlet itself is mercifully un-plummy, with no airs and graces to hem him in. Yet, unshackled from pomp and circumstance, there remains an understated clarity to the verse, absorbed as it is into everyday speech without ever cheapening it. There’s nothing radical going on here, but, in ripping into the text’s flesh and blood so wilfully, Hollands has allowed the increasingly brilliant Clark’s mettle to mature way beyond the brooding brat Hamlet is so often painted as.

The Herald, September 24th 2007

ends

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