Hamlet at the Network Theatre review

From director Jimmy Walters and the Bedouin Shakespeare Company comes this charming, new rendition of the well-known Shakespeare play, Hamlet – all the way from Abu Dhabi.

Now normally we would expect London to be sending Shakespeare to other countries after a successful run here in England’s capital, but it is exactly the opposite in this case. The Bedouin Shakespeare Company was born in a student union bar in Leeds by Mark Brewer and Edward Andrews, both of whom were born in the Emirates. Once developed, they took their idea to an Emirate prince and were asked to perform their rendition of Hamlet at the Abu Dhabi royal palace. After receiving rave reviews, they took their production to universities and schools and performed in front of sell-out theatre crowds. They’re now back in the UK and have set up shop at Waterloo’s Network Theatre.

It was thanks to Whatsonstage.com and their free tickets scheme that I came to hear about the production. The Network Theatre itself is hidden deep within/underneath Waterloo Station amongst the shop loading bays – and when I say hidden, I do mean it; it doesn’t appear on Google Maps, so if you’re anything like me you will be sure to break into a cold sweat at the thought of not being able to direct yourself with your iPhone. However, if you follow the instructions on the theatre’s website, you will find it without the slightest bit of trouble, as I did. The venue itself feels very much like a wartime bunker. It’s dark and narrow, with a very discreet front door. We were welcomed by a charming man who handed us our programmes and directed us toward the stage and bar. I had arrived almost half and hour early, so I navigated my way past the stage, where the actors were practicing their big fight scene, and through to the reasonably priced and rather green bar, appropriately named, ‘The Green Room.’

Once the actors took to the stage, it was full steam ahead. Jimmy Walters’ direction is fast-paced and completely modern. For those die-hard Shakespeare fans among you, you’ll be pleased to know that all the old language is there, but the costume is very much modern-day, with army jumpers for the guards and suits or red army jackets for the royal family. The set design is very clever and the use of pillars and chairs that are moved around in front of you by the guards set the scene perfectly.

The cast is led by co-founder Edward Andrews who appears somewhat of a quintessential Hamlet; he tackles the monologues well and does a fantastic job at portraying the many different mood changes that Hamlet goes through throughout the duration of the play. The other founder Mark Brewer plays Horatio and for me he completely steals the show. He was an utterly fantastic ‘right hand man’ to Hamlet and I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. Elliot Hardy also deserves a mention for his incredibly strong performance as Claudius.

Whilst the costume and set design are minimal, I felt that it in some ways better showcased this rather raw production of Hamlet; it really allowed for the actors to shine, and with nothing but black to act as a backdrop, there was no point in which you were distracted from the action taking place before you.

The script is very much abridged but this matched with the high energy delivery only made for a much more audience-friendly play – I cannot count the amount of times I have wished that Shakespeare plays were just a little shorter. It’s fine when you’re reading it, but plays are meant to be seen and it’s just not always possible to be fully engaged for three hours plus when your bum starts to ache and you need to go to the toilet.

The Bedouin Shakespeare Company’s production is a quick, slick and (pardon my French) no bullshit rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and well-loved plays; go and see it before they run off back to Abu Dhabi again, which by the way happens at some point in January.

Until 12th January

For more information go to www.networktheatre.org


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