Who looks at a script of Hamlet and says, “This could use more length?” SUDS’ Nathaniel Pemberton did. Not only has very little been cut from Shakespeare’s five act tragedy, but several silent scenes have been added in the introduction. The opening tableau, an echo of the play’s gripping final moments, is immensely effective. The subsequent scenes, depicting the funeral and the marriage of Gertrude and Claudius, are less so. With the accompanying music, which is, frankly, too loud, to the point of distortion, the first five minutes drag on a bit. What follows, however, is a deftly constructed spectacle.
Travis Ash is a tiny tour de force, and his interpretation of Hamlet is equal parts charming and disconcerting. Ash doesn’t shy away from the text’s exploration of mental illness – we see a Hamlet who plays mad, but who also negotiates his own depression and turmoil.
The cast as a whole is very strong. I found myself feeling Claudius Feels for the first time at Ian Ferrington’s touchingly subdued rendition of the ‘My offense is rank’ speech. Caitlin West and Tess Green, too, as Gertrude and Ophelia, both give heart-wrenchingly honest performances. I could say volumes about the placing of Horatio amidst the audience, a focal point for Hamlet in numerous scenes – however, as my space has been restricted by one Peter Walsh, I will settle for saying it is an ingenious choice for a character who gives us a chance to witness this story, who sees so much and can do so little to stop it. In this vein, Max Rigby’s ‘I have seen some shit’ face is also to be commended.
This production is not without flaws. Its soundtrack, as previously mentioned, is at times ill fitting and disjointed, and the change of backdrop toward the end feels unnecessary. There also appears to be no theme to the costuming, rendering the interpretation, to an extent, without context. The play is also not free from the vaguely rankling queerbait-y issues so many interpretations of Hamlet face. Hamlet’s scenes feature a frankly delightful amount of homoerotic face touching, a valid interpretation, and yet his flirting with now-female Guildenstern reminds us he is a Manly Heteromasculine Man.
What makes this production stand out is the unbridled love and respect for the text that permeates through every scene. It’s there in every choice made by Pemberton and dramaturg-cum-assisting director Nadia Bracegirdle, and in the performance of every cast member. Indeed at multiple points I found myself in tears, because I am not a soulless automaton – which is more than I can say for Peter Walsh, who I can confirm has no soul.
Performing Hamlet, now, is something of a hall of mirrors, coloured by endless reflections of countless interpretations. It’s no small legacy to carry on, and whilst SUDS’ interpretation is not always the most original, it pays tribute to theatrical history in every scene. It makes what is a low budget student production something vast and limitless.
PS: Peter Walsh definitely writes in the theatre. And he smells.
Hamlet: 7.8 Feels out of 10
Walsh: -13 stars