The cast performed for school groups in Europe before bringing Hamlet home.VANESSA UPTON

European Theatre Group's Hamlet was a compelling production of Shakespeare’s classic, capturing elements of comedy, tragedy, musical and madness within the cathartic frame of the original. Restaged in an eighteenth-century setting that encapsulated the very nature of Shakespeare, ETG created one of the best plays I have seen on the ADC stage.

Complete with musical theatre, phenomenal characterisation and acting, effective sounding, commendable lighting and brilliant directing, Hamlet has most definitely set a high standard as the precedent for coming productions this Lent term.

Tim Atkin (Claudius) and Sam Knights (Hamlet).VANESSA UPTON

Greeted by live music from the talented Toby Marlow and Anna Moody, which set the tone of the funeral burial of King Hamlet and soon turned to a festive dance performance celebrating life in Denmark, an atmospheric ambiance was set. Melody was carefully woven throughout the rest of the play, creating a Renaissance atmosphere, similar to performances at the Globe Theatre itself.

All through the performance, sound was used to enhance the tones of tragedy and comedy alike. A particularly potent combination was Ophelia’s lament and suicide, set to music and poignantly performed and sung by Matilda Wickham. Whereas other adaptations leave this event offstage, keeping true to Shakespeare’s original scripting, the decision to enact Ophelia’s misery and drowning worked beautifully, leaving a lasting memory in the audience’s minds that served to enhance the sense of tragedy at her later funereal burial ceremony. 

Other characterisation is certainly to be commended. Sam Knights recreated an absolutely phenomenal Hamlet. The stereotypically serious character of Hamlet was captured – but with an added emphasis on comic allowance in interpretation of lines, added clumsiness in matching gestures and movements, and facial expressions that showed an admirable attention to detail.

This merging of comedy with tragedy aided the equivocation of madness in analysis of Hamlet’s character: is he truly mad? Are others forcing him to be mad? Is he pretending? Or actually becoming mad through his pretence? The difficulty of being able to capture such subtle complexities truly shows the skill and capability of Knight’s acting as he brought to life, once again, Shakespeare’s famed character. 

“An absolutely phenomenal performance combining music, technical skill, witty interpretation and, of course, outstanding characterisation”

Ed Limb’s Laertes also provided a very memorable character, bringing to life the familial bond of love between brother and sister that enabled justification of his protective attitude towards Ophelia, and vindicating his mourning at her funeral. Precarious to stage, mourning and tearful scenes can appear too false or over-done yet the build-up of the onstage dynamic between the pair and attentive care in acting allowed a realistic portrayal of grief, triggering the onset of further tragedies and enabling a final cathartic release. 

Contrary to this omnipresent sense of tragic doom, Lucy Dickson and Ashleigh Weir provided a fantastically fun pairing as Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively, working well together to provide light-hearted relief throughout, in their comic duo. And that’s not to forget the many other actors, whose facial expressions also provided comic relief and laughter throughout. Even during scene changes these were sustained, bringing the performance to an even higher level of enjoyment as the audience never felt that they were being left waiting.

Carefully crafted and fantastically executed lighting worked with the characters and staging. Excellent lighting techniques were used to illuminate key events, provide spotlights for the play’s many monologue scenes, reinforce moods of apprehension and uncertainties in visions of Hamlet’s Ghost, and give an overall sense of coherency and professionalism in the performance. 

So, ‘to see or not to see’ – if that was the question, its answer has got to be a definitive ‘yes’! An absolutely phenomenal performance combining music, technical skill, witty interpretation and, of course, outstanding characterisation and acting by a fantastic cast and crew. Definitely worthy of its five stars and a show not to be missed.

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