Thought I’d finished with my theatre and dance memories? Think again! November 2008 to April 2009

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Birmingham Hippodrome, 8th November 2008

We saw the Trocks’ 2008/9 UK tour twice – the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome – with the classic programme of Swan Lake Act II, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Paquita, as well as the surprise pas de deux and the Dying Swan. For Swan Lake, the wonderful Lariska Dumbchenko was our Odette, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow our Siegfried, and Yuri Smirnov our von Rothbart. Always a joy! It was at this performance that I bought a poster that still graces my study wall!

  1. Noises Off – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th November 2008

This touring production of Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off was fantastic as always, with a terrific turn by Jonathan Coy as Lloyd and also featuring Colin Baker as Selsdon and Maggie Steed as Dotty. Never gets old.

  1. Hamlet – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Novello Theatre, London, 15th December 2008

The hugely successful and hot ticket production of Hamlet starring David Tennant as the Dane – and in which the majority of the audiences saw Edward Bennett in the role (as we did) because David Tennant injured his back. Always worth pointing out that you should never book a show purely on the strength of a star performer (but of course we always do.) The main thing that arose from this Gregory Doran production was what a star Mr Bennett is, taking over the role at very short notice and making a massive career move out it. A great show, certainly helped by Patrick Stewart playing Claudius, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and John Woodvine as the Player King.

  1. Cinderella – Derngate Auditorium, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2008

By now we had moved to Northampton, and our first taste of our local theatre was a big family Boxing Day trip to see its panto, Cinderella, starring Jimmy Osmond as Buttons. Not sure what expectations I had, but Jimmy Osmond is pure heart on stage – a true Mr Entertainer and he made the show go with an absolute swing. Superbly enjoyable.

  1. A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 28th December 2008

Trevor Nunn directed this beautifully intimate production of A Little Night Music, with so many star turns among the cast that it was hard to keep up. Hannah Waddingham was terrific as Desiree, but it also had Alexander Hanson as Fredrik, Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeld, Jessie Buckley as Anne, Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra and Gabriel Vick as Henrik. The perfect post-Christmas treat. Superb.

  1. Sleeping Beauty – The Theatre, Chipping Norton, 8th January 2009

To date our only trip to the charming little theatre at Chippy, this version of Sleeping Beauty was written by Graeme Garden. But the main reason for going was so that we could see our friend, Eurovision’s Dame Nicki French, appearing as Queen Jenny. An intimate theatre that produces a great vibe and the panto was enormous fun.

 

 

 

  1. King Lear – Young Vic, London, 28th February 2009

We bought tickets to see this on hearing about Pete Postlethwaite’s amazing performance as Lear; it’s still thought of as one of the best Lears in modern memory. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. Rather a sparse production that I felt lacked gravitas. But I was in the minority!

  1. The New Yorkers – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 5th April 2009

Passing over our second visit to the Trocks this season, this time at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with exactly the same programme, our next show was another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s wonderful resurrections of an old lost musical – Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ The New Yorkers, a 1930 musical with one memorable song, Love for Sale. The super cast included Craige Els, Anna Francolini, Sandra Marvin, Ursula Smith and Jon Robyns. I miss those Lost Musicals shows!

 

 

  1. Boeing Boeing – Milton Keynes Theatre, 10th April 2009

Breaking my usual rule about not repeating productions here that I’d already seen, I have to include this touring version of Boeing Boeing that we had seen in London two years earlier, simply because it was just so fantastically good. Interestingly it starred the real life Marquez brothers, Martin as Bernard and John as Robert, and also included Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’s Susie Blake as the hard-nosed maid Bertha. Sheer joy.

  1. Rookery Nook – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 26th April 2009

Moving past the touring production of Cabaret at the Milton Keynes Theatre which we really loved until the end when Wayne Sleep dissed the entire audience by abruptly ending the curtain call (I ended up having words with Bill Kenwright himself about the matter!) our next show was the Menier’s revival of Ben Travers’ 1926 play Rookery Nook, one of the famous Aldwych Farces. It did feel dated, but then again, it was still funny, with a particularly excellent performance from Mark Hadfield as Harold Twine, the original Robertson Hare role. By now we were firmly in love with the Menier and rarely missed a show!

Theatre Memories – Another Ten Shows – February to August 1976

Some more insights into my theatrically formative years!

  1. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Criterion Theatre, London, February 1976.

image(226)Not the original production, obviously – that was way back in 1966. This revival, produced by the Young Vic, starred Christopher Timothy and Richard O’Callaghan as Hamlet’s chums, and absolutely superb they were too. It was played very much for laughs, so it was a very funny production, but probably missed out on some of the play’s darker aspects. I note with pleasure that they observed the three-act structure, and that this had two intervals of twelve minutes each – wouldn’t happen today.  This was a school trip, led by my Stoppard-mad English teacher, Bruce Ritchie. He was influential on us all becoming Stoppard fans, something that I’ve only had to question with his more recent output!

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  1. Sacha Distel at the London Palladium, 19th April 1976.

I always liked Sacha Distel, and it’s impossible to sing Raindrops Keep Falling on my ‘Ead without adopting a faux-French accent. But the reason I jumped at the chance to attend this revue, scheduled for just one week, was the participation of the love of my life, Lynsey de Paul. It was a very good show, with great comedy compering from Kerry Jewel, a brilliant comedy music act from Marti Caine, and Sacha Distel doing his thing as only Sacha Distel could. But I was thrilled to see Lynsey, who sang about six or seven of her best songs, accompanying herself on the piano, and also joining M. Distel for a duet during his act. One of my most memorable nights in a theatre!

 

  1. Equus – Albery Theatre (now the Noel Coward, still hate theatre name changes!), London, May 1976.

equusOne of the last occasions where I lost my programme – and what a shame to have lost this one! By this time, Peter Shaffer’s evergreen play had undergone several cast changes, and I saw Colin Blakely as Dysart and Gerry Sundquist as Strang. This was another school trip – quite a bold choice by our English teachers but they knew we’d take it seriously. The staging of this original production included having some of the audience seated on the stage, on steep (and uncomfortable) racks at the back, looking down on to the action from behind – cheap seats, so they put us there, and I found it mesmerising. The fame and success of Equus continues to this day, and I’m grateful to have had the experience of seeing this ground-breaking production.

 

  1. Hamlet – Lyttelton Theatre, National, London, June 1976.

image(216)This was the inaugural production at the new National Theatre, which had only opened on the South Bank in March 1976. This full, uncut Hamlet lasted almost four and a half hours – quite a feat for a school night (finishing just in time for me to get the midnight train home, but not getting to bed till 1.30 am) but as it was yet another school trip, I had the perfect excuse. The dual pleasure of seeing something that you already knew was going to be a master-achievement, together with one’s first time in the Lyttelton made this another unforgettable experience.

 

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The extraordinary cast included Albert Finney as Hamlet, Denis Quilley as Claudius and the Ghost, Barbara Jefford as Gertrude, Susan Fleetwood as Ophelia, Simon Ward as Laertes, Philip Locke as Horatio and Roland Culver as Polonius. From then on, I wanted to see everything I could at the National – but there’s always been so much on offer that’s an impossible task! A magnificent, austere and awe-inspiring production.

 

  1. Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land – Arts Theatre, 28th June 1976.

image(218)Another Stoppard, another school trip, another school night. As a theatregoer, one particular breakthrough moment for me was having the sense to tuck my ticket stub in the spine of my programme, so that I would always know when I saw a show, where I sat and how much it cost. Stalls N1, the grand sum of £1. I didn’t always remember to do it from then on, but it became second nature before long.

Dirty Linen is a curious but funny play, 85 minutes long and split into two halves with the play within the play, New-Found-Land, being the cleverer and funnier of the two. I did, however, enormously enjoy the sense of occasion, the Arts Theatre at the time being delightfully seedy and clubby – you couldn’t get further from the National if you tried.

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We were taken by two of our teachers – Bruce Ritchie, naturally, as it was a Stoppard, and Andy Wilson, who the world knows better as A. N. Wilson, writer, thinker, commentator and young fogey, who was my erudite and entertaining companion in seat N2. Excellent performances from Edward de Souza, Peter Bowles and especially Stephen Moore.

 

  1. Liza of Lambeth – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 5th July 1976.

image(220)Mum really wanted to see this show as she was a big Somerset Maugham fan, and we went for her birthday, even though it was a school night. It was a bright-hearted, warm fun musical, with some great songs (several of which I still sing to myself) and a great cast. I didn’t know the story and wasn’t prepared for the hugely sad ending – Liza’s kicked to death by the wife of the man who made her pregnant – and I’d fallen in love with Angela Richards, who played Liza!

 

Patricia Hayes, Michael Robbins, Kate Williams, Tina Martin, Brian Hall and Christopher Neil also all gave sterling performances, and I for one would queue up to see a revival.

 

  1. Troilus and Cressida – Young Vic, London, 19th July 1976.

image(207)First theatre trip out during the school summer holidays, and the first show I saw on my own since the Sacha Distel Show. This production had originally been intended to open the new Cottesloe Theatre in the National Theatre development, but the theatre wasn’t ready yet, so it had to move to the Young Vic.

On paper it’s a great cast, but I didn’t like it much – primarily because I didn’t understand it. The direction made it hard to follow, and it was only Robert Eddison’s Pandarus that made the whole thing watchable. Maybe they just couldn’t get on with the last-minute switch of venue.

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  1. Donkeys’ Years – Globe Theatre (now the Gielgud), London, 22nd July 1976.

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I saw this with my schoolfriend Robin on a Thursday matinee, because we were both big fans of TV’s The Good Life and really wanted to see Penelope Keith perform in person. One of Michael Frayn’s early plays, it’s about a college Gaudy reunion that goes disastrously wrong in many ways. Slow to start, but then it gets pretty funny for Acts Two and Three. We enjoyed it very much, despite the fact that it was a very poor audience. But you’ll remember, gentle reader, how lovely the summer of 1976 was – only theatre nerds were attending matinees and not enjoying the sunshine.

The actors were all excellent. In addition to Penelope Keith, it starred Peter Barkworth, Peter Jeffrey, Julian Curry (Rumpole’s Claude Erskine-Brown) and Jeffry Wickham. Because we wanted to meet Penelope Keith, Robin and I went to the stage door after the show to collect autographs. Everyone who came out was very kind and chatty – but Miss Keith did not appear. The Stage Door Keeper very kindly offered to phone down to her and he reported that she could not come up (can’t remember why) but he would take our autograph books down to her and she would sign them. And so she did.

  1. Three Sisters – Cambridge Theatre, London, 29th July 1976.

image(200)One week later, another matinee, this time on my own. I knew of Chekhov and had already read most of his plays but had never seen one, so I thought I’d be intellectual and give this a try. It was fantastic. An amazing cast featured Janet Suzman as Masha and Nigel Davenport as Vershinin, with Peter Bayliss as a foolish, unpleasant Soliony, Peter Eyre as Toozenbach, John Shrapnel as Prozorov and June Ritchie as his awful wife. The other sisters were a wide-eyed innocent Angela Down as Irena and a mature and sensible Susan Engel as Olga.

Directed in a clear, pared-back and emotional style by Jonathan Miller, who was in the audience – I actually saw him in the Dress Circle bar during the interval but I didn’t speak to him because he looked like he wasn’t enjoying it much. He was the only one who wasn’t. From where I sat in the stalls, for the opening 90 seconds of the play Ms Down was looking directly into my eyes without moving an inch. I stared back. I’m sure that, 45 years later, she remembers that shared moment just as vividly as I do. (joke)

The production had transferred from the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford but only lasted about two months in the West End. Maybe that’s why Jonathan Miller wasn’t very happy.

 

  1. Banana Ridge – Savoy Theatre, London, 5th August 1976.

For some summer comedy, here was a revival of an old Ben Travers farce (old Ben Travers was the flavour of the month as his Bed Before Yesterday was in town – more of that soon) with a pleasing collection of comedy actors including Robert Morley, George Cole (pre-Minder), Joan Sanderson (post-Please Sir), Jan Holden and Vivienne Martin, who had been one of the prankish young ladies of the St Trinians’ films where Mr Cole had been Flash Harry. It was a very successful revival, running for a year.

I remember enjoying it very much; Robert Morley’s character was a hilariously bumbling old man and it was a brilliant portrayal. I also had a very enjoyable time at the stage door, meeting the cast and getting autographs. Mr Morley was gracious, Miss Sanderson was kind; Geoffrey Burridge mis-spelt my name and we had a good laugh about that. Vivienne Martin was very chatty and said that the naughty Mr Morley had spent the entire show trying to make the other cast members corpse – and had I noticed? I said it explained why Mr Cole got flummoxed, and was embarrassed about forgetting his lines.

It was an interesting insight into how a star like Robert Morley would get a bit of fun out of an otherwise dull matinee on a sunny afternoon.

 

That’s another ten shows in the bag! On Monday it’ll be another holiday snaps blog. B is also for Brazil, and some memories from our trip to Rio in 2011.

Review – Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company on tour at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd March 2018

HamletThis was a close call! The snow meant the Royal and Derngate cancelled all performances on Friday 2nd March, including the comedy night with Adam Hess and Glenn Moore, for which we had tickets and about which I was expecting to be writing today! Big shame. Fortunately, all shows for Saturday went ahead – and I would estimate about 70% of the almost fully booked audience managed to struggle in to see the play. If they had cancelled Hamlet on the Saturday we would have had no chance of seeing it… which would have been very regrettable as this is one of those rare shows that has 5 stars written all over it within five minutes of the start. But let me not get ahead of myself…

Hamletprod3This is the first time (or the first time for ages, not entirely sure) that the Royal Shakespeare Company have taken one of their touring productions to Northampton, and I for one welcome them with open arms; with any luck this will be the start of a very fruitful co-operation between the two theatres. I also realised this is only the fourth time I’ve seen Hamlet on stage – pretty poor showing for what I always consider to be my Favourite Play Of All Time. The first time was at the National Theatre in 1976 for a four hour, uncut performance with Albert Finney as the Great Dane, Denis Quilley as Claudius, Simon Ward as Laertes and Barbara Jefford as Gertrude. I remember it mesmerised me. Then I saw an Oxford University production at the Oxford Playhouse in 1979, where, low down among the castlist, a young Tim McInnerney was a fabulously foppish Osric – definitely a forerunner to his Lord Percy in Blackadder II. In 2008 we saw the RSC production starring David Tennant – but we had tickets for when he was off sick, so we saw Edward Bennett instead and he was superb.

Hamletprod8And now this! This production was first seen in Stratford in 2016 and is now settled in its brief tour of the UK and USA. It’s a production that takes everything you would expect from a standard production of Hamlet and throws it out of the nearest window, whilst remaining delightfully true to the original characterisations and the powerful story. The only addition to the original text that I could make out was the short opening scene where we see Hamlet awarded his degree from the University of Wittenburg – so appropriate on the Derngate stage, which is where the University of Northampton graduation ceremonies take place.

Hamletprod9Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – we know this, as Marcellus tells us so. Shakespeare’s text confirms that there are invasions from Norway, and that England and France are within relatively easy reach. But where are we really? The pounding drums that permeate the production suggest Africa, as do the appearance and accents of many of the cast – all but a few of the actors are black. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears in grand traditional West African robes, and Gertrude is bedecked in the splendid colourful dresses one might associate with Nigeria. However, the gravediggers sing a calypso, which suggests (to me) the West Indies; and Guildenstern, with her (yes, her) pale skin and fair hair could be taken for pure Danish through and through. So what’s all that about? No need for alarm. All we really need to know is that this is a different universe for Hamlet; the story has been taken up and replaced in a new geographical and racial setting, helping its accessibility to a whole new young, vibrant audience. However, rest assured that its age-old themes are as relevant and dynamic as ever.

Hamletprod1I don’t think I’m a purist (whatever that means) when it comes to Shakespeare, because he’s big and clever enough to survive any re-imagination of his plays, no matter what a gifted director might throw at him. But he’s also incredibly versatile at lending himself to a variety of new interpretations and, if done well, each one illuminates his plays in a different way. Simon Godwin’s extraordinary production reveals so much more about Hamlet the man than most other productions. The sight of Hamlet in his first scene, his face runny with crying and nasal mucus (sorry if you’re having lunch) said so much more about his very real and solitary grief for his late father than any smart words or sarcastic glances. His interaction with the characters who are his friends is one of true joy; you can tell he and Horatio have that kind of friendship where they could tell each other anything with the absolute trust; Horatio’s grief at his friend’s death in the final scene (oops, spoilers) was truly moving. Hamlet has a roister-doister type of friendship with the guard Marcellus; a slightly more ambivalent friendship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who prove themselves to be lousy liars when admitting that they were “sent for”. Everyone else he either distrusts or keeps up a wary distance from; seen beautifully in his brief hello to the guard Barnardo.

Hamletprod7One of those unanswerable questions that always crops up with Hamlet is – is he mad or not? There’s no question in my mind that this particular Hamlet is 100% sane all the way through. His explanation that he will only be mad north-north-west is very definite and convincing, and every scene clearly shows his manipulations and detailed planning, to bring about the downfall of Claudius and thus take revenge on the death of his father, as his father’s Ghost so clearly insisted. Paapa Essiedu, as Hamlet, is simply stunning. His ability to get to the heart of the character is so rewarding and fulfilling to the audience. His clarity of speech, the way he juxtaposes nobility with wretchedness, his lightness of humour, his depth of tragedy… it’s a blistering performance. He’s one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off. The clarity with which Mr Essiedu takes on all those intricate soliloquies, the deliberate way in which his Hamlet picks a fight with Ophelia, the precision of his dealings with the Players, even his paint-spattered appearance in his studio, all convinced me this was a portrayal of an intelligent and witty brain, knowing exactly what he was trying to achieve, by an equally intelligent and witty actor. Hamlet’s fore-runner, Kyd’s Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy may well be mad againe but I’m pretty sure Hamlet isn’t.

Hamletprod2This production is also much funnier than any production of Hamlet has any right to be, but without taking liberties; it’s all legitimate humour, stemming from the text. Hamlet dragging out the dead Polonius with all the mundanity of helping with the shopping is hilarious. Talking of whom, this production actually made all those bumbling pomposities of Polonius genuinely funny; Laertes’ constant attempts to take his leave, but returning because his father hasn’t quite finished yet, surprised the audience with its modern irreverence. The Yorick scene is light, creative and almost bubbly in its freshness. By contrast, when this production gets dark, it gets really dark. Ophelia’s madness is performed with such deep sadness, with the observing characters visibly shrinking with embarrassment and confusion, that it really disconcerts the audience that you feel horrified – in a simple way of looking at it – that this lovely girl has come to this.

Hamletprod4Paul Wills’ magnificent design is arresting from the start. The panelled halls of Elsinore, the King and Queen’s thrones (I loved how cheekily they were redesignated as the Ladies and Gents toilets for the play within a play scene), the artistic designs of Hamlet’s hanging tapestries, are all lively and ingenious. By comparison, I loved the simplicity of depicting the offstage Ghost as simply a bright light in the distance. The costumes are superb: Gertrude’s fine large-print gowns, the Ghost’s dignified formal dress, Hamlet’s colourful painter’s suit, the military garb of the soldiers, the sharp business suits of the envoys, the fancy dress of the Players, even Rosencrantz’s office geeky look (was he meant to look like the guy from the IT Crowd?) all stand out and just make the visual presentation of the play so much more enjoyable.

Hamletprod11Clarence Smith, as Claudius, gives an excellent performance as someone who can’t quite believe his luck that his evil plan to become King was so successful, so easily. He has just the right amount of smugness for someone who’s got the power, got the girl and now wants to enjoy the fruits of his achievements. But his fright at the false fire of the murder scene performed by the Players felt genuinely horrific and from then he cuts a suitably weak figure. Hamlet almost kills him whilst praying – but such a fate is too good for him, so worthless is he. Even when presiding over the fight between Hamlet and Laertes, no one listens to him any more.

Hamletprod10Lorna Brown is a very regal queen Gertrude, full of her high office and revelling in the stimulation of a fresh husband, until Hamlet devastates her with the truth of what she has done, when her remorse is genuine. Ewart James Walters has a strong presence as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, cutting a truly noble and furious figure; and he’s also a wily and humorous gravedigger, riposting Hamlet’s questions with his unlearned wit. I enjoyed Patrick Elue’s hearty Marcellus and his statesmanlike Fortinbras; I liked how Kevin N Golding underplayed the Player King and didn’t make him out to be a pantomime character, although his portrayal of the King in the play within the play was delightfully cruel. Buom Tihngang gives an entertaining performance as Laertes, telling Ophelia how to behave whilst not anticipating doing the same himself (hence the condoms in his case) and returning as a noble, avenging foe.

Hamletprod12The play benefits from a magnificent ensemble who don’t put a foot wrong, but there are also three simply superb performances in supporting roles that I must mention. James Cooney is brilliant as Horatio; honest, supportive, constructive, Hamlet’s right-hand man always there to help, moving me (almost) to tears as he mourns at the end. Mimi Ndiweni is wonderful as Ophelia; full of schoolgirl cheek, hope, kindness as well as duty when we first encounter her; destroyed though grief later in the play when her mad transformation is truly painful to watch. But maybe best of all Joseph Mydell, a dignified Egeon in the National Theatre’s Comedy of Errors six years ago, who creates a real character our of Polonius’ nonsensical ditherings, genuinely funny as the well-meaning bighead. Mrs Chrisparkle announced at the end of the show that she “finally got Polonius” as a character. But, when all’s said and done, it’s Mr Essiedu whom you can’t get out of your mind for days.

Hamletprod6jpgThis production has almost finished its tour, with a month at the Hackney Empire coming up and then a week at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in May. I don’t do star ratings; but in this instance I’ll make an exception. This is as five star a production as you can get. Scintillating, riveting, yet so true to the classic original. Can’t recommend it too strongly.

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

Review – Hamlet the Musical, Royal, Northampton, 19th May 2011

Hamlet the MusicalElsinore, 1600. The battlements of the castle. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears. And sings!

You know a show’s a winner when you sit through it in joy, walk home afterwards in joy, go to bed in joy, get up in joy and laugh about it all through breakfast. I had a preconceived idea of what “Hamlet! The Musical” would be like, having seen an introduction to it at the season launch and having read a couple of reviews. But actually the show exceeds expectations on all levels. It’s not merely a Shakespearian spoof. The songs are delightfully catchy and tuneful; the lyrics are extremely witty and cleverly thought out; and the cast work their socks off with huge zest to fill the Royal auditorium with laughter and affection.

Shakespeare plays of course do lend themselves to being “musicalised” in different ways. You can take the basic play and put music to it, like Trevor Nunn’s Comedy of Errors in the 1970s; you can attach a musical to the side of it, like Kiss Me Kate; you can use it to inspire a completely new work, like West Side Story; or you can keep the characters and a few words from the original script and tell basically the same plot tongue firmly in cheek like Hamlet the Musical. And it works really well.

Among the songs, it has a big number, “To Be or Not To Be” that strongly reminds me of Sweden’s 1999 Eurovision winner “Take me to your heaven”. The two could nicely interchange! I liked the use of the Danish song sheet and pluckily attempted it in the original tongue. There’s another song which is all about what the bloody bloody hell do we bloody do now, which had me in hysterics. A song that relies heavily on inadequate swear words contrasts so entertainingly with the work of the English language’s greatest wordsmith. To pick just two songs to remember is to do an injustice to the rest of it though; every song works in its own way.

Jack ShallooUsually a moody misfit, Hamlet here is presented as part Everyman and part dingbat; his incongruous “ordinary bloke” appearance is so not what you would expect of the eponymous Prince that it really maximises his comic potential. He’s endearingly hopeless, really – needing a decent question, he can only get as far as “to be or…” I thought Jack Shalloo’s performance was a real knockout. It’s the combination of his apparent ordinariness, his slightly “fish out of water” characterisation, and his unexpected ability to sing and dance way beyond what you would expect from looking at him! One cheeky glance and he takes you into his confidence so that his plight is your plight. But then rather than build up a tragic Shakespearian crescendo, instead he’ll play the fool or play up to the girls just like anyone of us would. I loved the portrayal of his England tour – suddenly becoming a popstar, chatting up the talent in the audience and getting the lady cellist to ring him. He’s like a chip off the old block as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father has that certain Vegas quality too!

Jess RobinsonOphelia is sweetness and light but becomes the girlfriend from hell that Hamlet needs to ditch in order to avenge his father’s murder. The staging of her descent into madness is one of sheer hilarity. Jess Robinson is great in this role but also in the several other roles she takes, perhaps best as the irrepressibly cheery Rosencrantz, a wholesomely squeaky college dude who would irritate the pants off you on Wittenberg Campus. Gabriel VickThe other half of this ingeniously presented duo is Gabriel Vick’s Guildenstern, equally nauseating for all the right reasons. He is terrific as Laertes, the kind of guy who comes back from foreign lands having acquired the accent – and much more. I don’t recall Laertes going to Spain, but this one obviously did. He may be all protective of his sister and trying to macho up against Hamlet but deep down you get the feeling he just likes dressing up. I think this is the third time we’ve seen Gabriel Vick – we also caught him in Avenue Q a while back and he was marvellous as the son in the Menier’s Little Night Music (later, Henrik, much later…)

Virge Gilchrist Virge Gilchrist’s Gertrude is a fantastic incarnation of weary lustiness, regretting the fact that her son has “issues”, but being won over by hunky Claudius’ gold codpiece, and her breaking the news of Polonius’ death to Laertes is a stroke of genius! Mark InscoeMark Inscoe’s Claudius is villainy personified and gets nicely uncomfortable watching the play within the play, brilliantly presented as snatches from opera. As Gertrude says, he clearly prefers Ayckbourn. He has a marvellously mealy-mouthed song about his capacity for doing good from which he wrings every nuance. David BurtDavid Burt revels in numerous other roles, including Polonius, nicely hidden behind the arras (not), a gravedigger with a cheeky tombstone bearing an ALW epitaph, and a Fortinbras who suffers from Premature Interjection. It all ends with everyone dead of course, killed with authentic Danish weaponry, and you just love the way they milk the death spasms.

It’s pure escapist entertainment from start to finish. Take an extra tenner with you as you’ll definitely want to buy the CD. It’s on next week in Richmond, and hopefully somewhere else after that. ‘Tis no tragedy, it’s a wonderful two hours that will suit lovers and detractors of Shakespeare alike!