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The Theatreguide.London Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse   February 2022

There’s singing, a stand-up comedy routine, audience participation and loads of fun in the Globe Theatre production of Hamlet directed by Sean Holmes.

There’s even a good deal of Shakespeare. Granted it seems to take second place to whatever the company reckons will get a laugh, but it’s always there for the running time of three hours fifteen minutes.

You can’t always hear it clearly because a number of the cast have a habit of suddenly shouting a line, which is surprising given it is being performed in the intimate space of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Even some of the things they shout are surprising. You could hear audience members in the first of two intervals asking each other if Claudius really shouted ‘Fuck Fortinbras.’ Well, yes he did.

Perhaps the director thought Shakespeare was being a bit subtle about the danger Fortinbras posed to Elsinore.  

Just so you understand how strongly some of the characters feel about the place, the director has Ophelia (Rachel Hannah Clarke) in the scene that usually indicates her traumatic breakdown, getting the audience to join her in singing ‘We are from mighty mighty Elsinore.’

Admittedly she didn't seem to be grieving or suffering emotional distress, but the audience certainly enjoyed singing along with her.

This production wants to be a farce, so it skims the surface of the play, deviating wherever possible with something to entertain.

The visiting players company arrive at the court to perform a section of Romeo and Juliet. The graveyard scene abandons the text for the amiable stand-up comedy routine of Ed Gaughan wondering if we are by that time ‘experiencing Stockholm syndrome.'

He is joined by John Lightbody as an Irish priest providing percussion by banging a human skull. Together with the audience, they sing the country song The Gambler so loudly it drowns out the words of Hamlet when he arrives.

George Fouracres is a sardonic Hamlet, keener to chase a laugh than conveying any consistent understanding of the play or his relationship with any other character.

We first meet him popping up from the back of the audience making a serious speech that gets a laugh. He sounds like a primary school bully when he mockingly speed repeats the noises Ophelia is supposed to make when she speaks. He calls her brother Laertes (Nadi Kemp Sayfi) ‘a dickhead.’

He occasionally wanders around for some reason singing ‘Now I know how Joan of Arc felt’ and gets a laugh with the moving speech that begins ‘What a piece of work is man’ and ending with the line ‘this quintessence of dust’ by seeming to illustrate it with a particular member of the audience.

This Hamlet asks the audience questions about his behaviour. He demands to know ‘Am I a coward?’ but is dissatisfied with the answer. ‘Have I wronged Laertes?’ he asks several times. That one gets many saying yes, some saying no and one conceding maybe. The ‘maybe’ gets the laugh.

The performance is restless, constantly trying to shake off any sense of tragedy, wanting to send us home laughing at its jokes and singing its songs. Some people might, but I suspect many more will be left dissatisfied.

Keith McKenna

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Review of Hamlet - Globe Theatre 2022

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