Montague Basement’s Hamlet is unlike any seen before. This well known tragedy has been reshaped and reconceptualised under Lusty-Cavallari’s direction. Removed from the Danish court, this production has been repositioned to an ambiguous setting; evidenced by modern technologies and abundant allusions to The Lion King, without any clear references to a specific time or place. Although vague and unsettling, the lack of definitive context emphasises the perennial concerns Hamlet discusses, and its endurance as a text.
In this production, Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ is one of the main foci. Whilst Hamlet being truly insane and grappling with serious depression is a very real and valid interpretation of the text, Christian Byers as Hamlet embodied this mania with one colour from the very start of the show – making it difficult to understand and empathise with his plight. This characterisation of Hamlet effectively served to deconstruct the notion of Hamlet as a revenge tragedy hero. However, it also distanced the audience from him.
The frantic set design by Lusty-Cavallari; an array of technologies, papers and books strewn across the dark room, enhances his deliberate contextual ambiguity, and echoes Hamlet’s frenzied mind.
Ophelia’s plight is another main focus in this production, which lends refreshing insight into the text. Her emotional breakdown following her father’s death, and Hamlet’s ill treatment of her, is shocking and confronting. Elements of her story here are hauntingly poignant, such as tearing paper to make her flowers, and giving them to audience members. Her suicide is not something lightly brushed over, but a central and significant element of the plot.
Whilst her breakdown is very well handled by Lulu Howes under the direction of Lusty-Cavallari, the characterisation of Ophelia up until this point makes it difficult to believe this sudden breakdown. Howes’ Ophelia, whilst lovely, is quite distant at times, and doesn’t beg the audience’s empathy until her final breakdown. Had I been more drawn to Ophelia earlier, her death would have had a much greater meaning.
The rest of the cast is stripped back to Zach Beavon-Collin as Horatio, Robert Boddington as Claudius and Patrick Morrow as Polonius. All do well in their roles, however they work mainly in the background, in a production that brings Hamlet and Ophelia to the foreground.
Lusty-Cavallri’s direction is thoughtful and powerful. It strips back the text to focus on Hamlet’s own arc, and near the end, Ophelia’s. In stripping back the text from its original context of political machinations and religious reformations, the plot is streamlined to focus on the interpersonal relationships and ideas of disassociation with reality and truth, and personal downfall.
Unfortunately, it feels difficult to connect with the characters at times, and without a strong understanding of the text already, it would be difficult to follow the plot. This production has moments of effective communication of its ideas, however a clearer direction could make what is already a striking reimagining into something very powerful.