The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
The Secret Love Life of Ophelia
Greenwich Theatre and YouTube Summer 2020
online production from the Greenwich Theatre is not particularly
successful as a piece of theatre. But since its purposes extend
beyond the dramatic, it may have more value than appears at first.
celebrated by his fans (among whom I count myself) for his signature
method of elevating common characters and sometimes ugly stories
through inventive and evocative quasi-Shakespearean verse.
however, he starts with a Shakespearean story and tries to push it
even higher, and the result too often wavers between the bathetic and
The play takes the form
of a string of letters
between Hamlet and Ophelia, tracing the romance that takes place
largely before and offstage during Shakespeare's version. For this
online production director James Haddrell turns the letters into
Skype-like video messages passing between the two and somehow hacked
and preserved for us.
Much of the first half
is devoted to their explicitly sexual interest and then delight in each
other, as they take
turns describing first their hopes for and then their memories of
But as romantic language
moves toward the double-
and then single-entendre, with he speaking of his 'hot molten lava
jetting forth' and she promising to 'suck thy root,' things approach
the terminally silly.
What turns for a while
into rococo Victorian
pornography - let's not dwell too long on the 'string of pearls' –
thankfully fades in the second half as Shakespeare's plot begins to
demand attention and we get reports on and reactions to the Nunnery
Scene, the Mousetrap and the killing of Polonius.
The play ends with
the arrival of a third voice, Gertrude speaking Shakespeare's
description of Ophelia's death.
Greenwich's website and
press release make clear that the primary purpose of this production
was not so much to present Berkoff's play, but to showcase a large
number of young performers deprived of opportunities by the closing
of the theatres.
To that end thirty-nine
actors (one more Hamlet than
Ophelia) share the two roles, each getting a single video message and
the opportunity to be onscreen, in what appear to be their own
real-life bedrooms, kitchens or gardens, for between one and three
Inevitably there is very
little continuity of
characterisation here, some of the Ophelias more sensual than others,
some of the Hamlets more laddish. They're not all equally talented or
equally able to present their personalities, so some of these
what-amount-to-audition-pieces are likely to be more successful than
Helen Mirren generously
lends her name to the promotion of
this production, and appears onscreen for forty-five seconds as
Supporters of Greenwich Theatre should be moved to make a donation, friends and family of the thirty-nine young actors will want to watch at least two or three minutes of this, and fans of Berkoff may stick it out to fill a gap in their knowledge of his plays. But there is really not much here.
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