Thu 3rd – Sat 5th November 2011


Hannah Ladds

at 00:59 on 4th Nov 2011



The challenge of staging one of the best known plays in the English Language is no mean feat. The plot of this, one of Shakespeare’s four most famous tragedies, is so recognised, that it barely needs an introduction. The audience is taken through the innermost workings of the human mind as Hamlet struggles against grief-fuelled madness to avenge the death of his father, the king of Denmark. It is quickly revealed to both Hamlet and the audience, that the king was poisoned by his brother (Hamlet’s uncle), who has since taken the throne and married the queen (Hamlet’s mother). Hamlet’s mental torments distract him from the task of avenging his father and his own psychological degeneration is laid bare on stage for the audience to see as the play draws ever nearer to the ultimate climatic scene. In short, this is a play which explores the very boundaries of the human psyche and the very essence of death. To stage this play in just four weeks is nothing if not ambitious. But it worked, and worked well.

The audience is led by the hand throughout the play with clever uses of staging and effects, so that the last scene of death and destruction seems almost inevitable. The use of projected film onto the back of the set is used very creatively, at pertinent points. During one of these film sequences, the portentous flashes of a bath tub, Ophelia lying lifeless within the water and ‘The Exorcist’-like flickering of a skull enhances the ominous feeling that death is never far away.

The visual tone of this play is suitably sombre. This is a play of black and white. All the costumes, the settings and the film clips are totally monochromatic; the colour comes from the actors. Not one single actor on the stage disappointed. Claudius (Tom Dockar-Drysdale) was aptly forceful and domineering, whilst Ophelia (Lucie Crawford) was utterly convincing during her scenes of madness (which I think is one of the hardest scenes to make utterly convincing for any female actress in all of Shakespeare’s works). Comic interludes were brought in the forms of Osric (Alex Wingfield) and Polonius (Mike Clarke) which interrupted the gravity of the play like breaths of fresh air, and have to be commended for making the audience laugh despite the very serious tone of the play. In particular, Polonius’ entrances were eagerly anticipated. However, the rhythm and action of the play was carried by the vibrancy and the charisma of the leading man- Hamlet (Tomas McNulty).

My personal feeling was that the start of the first half tended to drag a bit. At times I felt Hamlet’s scenes of grief and raging soliloquies seemed a bit forced and the action didn’t really flow unless there were others on stage too bounce dialogue off, but this is just personal opinion. I felt it wasn’t until his ‘book’ scene with Polonius or the first scene with the indomitable duo Rosencrantz (Ed Cherrie) and Guildenstern (Matt Dann), that the audience felt the full flow of his madness. And, when he sparked, you couldn’t stop him. His energy and vivacity were clear as he bounded across stage, and I felt that the other actors responded to this, so the second half was simply a mind-blowing display of dramatic talent.

A lot of credit has to go to director Charlie Oulton, as this was a very intelligent interpretation of a well-known and well-performed play. The use of film throughout and especially at the beginning and at the end provided an optic feast which also broke up the drama, whilst still building the tension.

All in all, this was a fantastic play. I must say I think Hamlet’s (Thomas McNulty’s) biggest accomplishment was that he didn’t once forget his lines, or if he did, it was in no way apparent to the audience. This is a simply incredible feat given the number of lines he had to learn in such a short space of time.

I urge anyone who is a Shakespeare lover, or is even vaguely interested to go and see this play. There are aspects of it which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but visual art is always going to be subjective. If you want a decent night out which titillates your creative senses, where intellectualism reigns and where you can watch Durham’s finest young actors strut the boards, Hamlet is a must-see.


Katie Coleman

at 10:54 on 4th Nov 2011



Tonight I had the privilege of attending the NADST's production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Upon entering the Assembly Rooms, the atmosphere of the play is established immediately. The stage contains a clean minimalist set of two sets of stairs, two second-hand high backed chairs and the title of the show projected on loop upon the makeshift screen of fabric . The stage floor is littered with dried leaves and enveloped with fog creating an eerie and desolate environment befitting of such a dramatic work.

The story of Hamlet takes place in Denmark two months after their beloved king dies leaving behind his son Hamlet and wife Queen Gertrude. Gertrude swiftly marries her deceased husband's brother, Claudius, making him king and driving Hamlet to further grief. When Hamlet is told by his father's ghost that he did not die naturally, but was murdered by Claudius, he charges Hamlet to avenge his death. Hamlet swears to do so, but his conviction wavers. Hamlet takes on "mad" behavior in his conflicted state and distances himself from all aspects of his life, including the woman he loves, Ophelia. The Claudius and the Queen in seeking to discover the cause of Hamlet's "madness", begin a strange series of events that push the story ever toward a climatic end.

Having seen several performances of Hamlet previously, I was unsure of how I would feel seeing a "student" production; however, I was pleasantly surprised. Right out of the gate Thomas McNulty owns the role of Hamlet. He does the part significant justice, including making the more humorous moments of Hamlet's "madness" truly enjoyable without losing the gravity of Hamlet's inner struggle. While I found Polonius's (Mike Clarke) performance to be a bit campy, he added a levity to the role that is often overlooked. In general the actors did an excellent job with such a heavy handed show. The entire cast executed the annunciation and inflection beautifully allowing a script that can be easily jumbled to appear clear and concise to the audience.

The costume choices for this performance were generally very strong, keeping the cast primarily in clean minimalist black and white dress. The very rare use of color in the costumes that was instituted was subtle and well placed. Unfortunately, Ophelia's costume stood out as lacking in comparison to the rest of the cast, a simple satin slip robbing the role of a more suiting costume. Overall the lighting, set and stagecraft choices made in this production complimented the text nicely. The use of the projected images throughout were not always necessary, but created an interesting more modern feel to the entire production.

My biggest disappointment in this performance came from the Director's choice to omit small sections of the text. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and would gladly go again. If you enjoy a tale of murder, betrayal and madness make sure you make time for Hamlet this weekend, five quid is a small price to pay for such an evening of entertainment.


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