BLOG Reginald Francis

NWR Issue 115

One Hour Hamlet from Half Light Productions

In the third act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, spoken play ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ is performed to recreate Claudius’ murder of Hamlet’s father. Hamlet directs this play in order to reveal his uncle’s guilt. Hamlet gives the players strict instructions, ordering them to ‘o'erstep not the modesty of nature’ and perform with clarity and sincerity. The Half Light Productions Company approached their performance of One Hour Hamlet in the same way, though their purpose was quite different, when they performed at Aberystwyth Art Centre on 4 and 5 October.

Director and cast member, Patrick Kavanagh did not want an overly devised production, nor did he want a reverential recreation of the play in its entirety. Essentially, the goal was to strip the play down to its core storyline, making the performance as accessible and entertaining as possible and allowing Shakespeare’s language to stand for itself.

Minimalism was key in the set design. There were three chairs and a large golden curtain which separated the front from the back of the stage and allowed the actors to change costume. The intimate studio theatre created a very Shakespearean feeling of commonality between cast and audience. The performers gazed into the eyes of the front row and much of the action, including the tortuous murder of Laertes, took place in the central aisle.

The play’s eleven core characters were portrayed by just four performers. Paula Gallagher played Hamlet as earnest and brooding, but with an emotional fragility that exposed the instability of his sanity. Marcus Dobson’s Polonius provided many comical touches. His bumbling and paternal mannerisms were reminiscent of a wizened Hugh Laurie. One of my favourite moments was when Dobson looked at his phone, squinting and rearranging his spectacles like any elderly phone-user, unaccustomed to modern technology. In stark contrast was the same actor’s Laertes, powerful and emotional in his forceful body movements and facial expressions.

Calista Williams also portrayed two very different characters with detailed attention. Her Ophelia was childlike and vulnerable but her Gertrude was steely eyed, conveying the subtlety of this character’s repressed guilt.

Kavanagh’s Claudius, meanwhile, began with calm and easy-going self-satisfaction. His tone of voice and mannerisms came across as reasonable and level-headed, which clashed cleverly with Gallagher’s portrayal of Hamlet as insecure. This reinforced the feeling that Hamlet was a disruption to the corrupted equilibrium of Claudius’ court. As the play progressed, however, the character became increasingly unhinged, as Hamlet's resolve regarding his intended revenge hardened. Kavanagh’s performance as the ghost was subdued, relying on the minimalism of his slow movements and emotionless expression to create a sense of otherness.

Mobile phones were used on stage throughout, creating a naturalistic effect, since these have almost become an extension of our bodies. Instead of reading letters the characters read texts messages. In the ghost scene, the only source of light is from the torch on Gallagher’s phone which she points at Kavanagh, casting his shadow upon the wall and also acting as a visual metaphor for the singularity of Hamlet’s vision, giving the audience more cause to doubt his sanity. Original music was provided by Aberystwyth University student, Rebecca Snell, who captured the personality and spirit of each character and assisted in carrying the emotion of the drama.

The combination of Shakespeare’s eloquence and the combined talents of the Half Light Productions team, concentrated into one hour, resulted in a sleek, confident performance that was very well received by the audience.

Reginald Francis is a student at MA level in Literary Studies at Aberystwyth University.


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