When Claudius calls for light at the end of the first half of Gordon Barr's new production of Shakespeare's gloomiest tragedy, performed here by MA students from the Classical and Contemporary Text course, he gets darkness instead. It's a darkness that pervades throughout, from a candlelit opening in which Tierney Nolan's female Horatio sits writing at a desk more suited for love letters, to the extended mass suicide note the play evolves into.
There's something post-Victorian in such an image, with the long dresses and suits as ornate as the array of hipster moustaches being sported looking positively Wildean in terms of presentation. The array of empty picture frames that hang down just enough for carefully posed apparitions to step into complete the image, even as they flank a giant crucifix draped in scarlet that floats centre-stage. The construction of trunks, baskets and cases that sits at one side of the Chandler Studio stage suggest the baggage Hamlet and co are carrying around with them is as much physical as psychological.
As played by Samantha McLaughlin in a production presented in partnership with Bard in the Botanics, Hamlet himself is a wily wind-up merchant, whose emotional sleight-of-hand in terms of the way he plays all-comers sends him off the rails for real. If there is an unrequited romance yearned after by Horatio, it goes un-heeded by Hamlet, whose increasingly pathologically inclined mission leaves Rachel Schmeling's poor Ophelia as mere collateral damage. As Hamlet and his extended family go to war, the body count mounts, until all that is left is Horatio at her desk once more, immortalising a legend.
The Herald, March 17th 2016