Terry Hands’ final fling at Clywd Theatr Cymru…which, remember, he rescued from likely closure in 1997…bears his favourite two-tone motif. Gusty and whimsical characters, dressed in celestial white, parade across a shining black marble stage. They create their own pools of reflected light which are so bright they illuminate the audience. Naked flames (another hallmark) cast troubled shadows – and towering black walls dimly mirror the mortals’ every move.
In such huge circumstances characterisation is key and you can tell Hands is having fun. His Hamlet is a man with a plan; feigned madness is merely one of his weapons of revenge. Lee Haven-Jones is truly excellent as the provocative prince … soliloquising on his knees, hands thrust deep into his rough greatcoat pockets. He is slight, tousled and unshaven – and completely in control. The famous speeches seem almost incidental…allowing other passages to be lifted into the limelight. I particularly enjoyed the way the actor acts the actor when instructing the red-gold apparelled players to insert a certain speech into their performance.
Turning convention on its head, Hands gives the supporting characters much to do. Caryl Morgan’s Ophelia is a relaxed, fun-loving girl when cuddling her big brother; but is turned by the shock of being struck across the face by her own father. Her distraught second half appearance as a nursery-rhyming, barelegged, rag doll is dangerous stuff…but it comes off beautifully.
The production leaps into violent life in the Queen’s bedchamber where the possibility of passionate incest is laid bare. Carol Royal is a voluptuous, stern-faced 50s film star of a Gertrude, with a voice to die for.
But the surprise of the show is the brilliant casting of comedy actor Roger Delves-Broughton as Polonius. There is much of Malvolio about him as he wrings hidden humour from Ophelia and Hamlet’s correspondence … and when he and Gertrude put their heads together they act like scheming parents of wayward teenagers.
Richard Elfyn’s grounded and foursquare Horatio is Hamlet’s rock. He deals with the apparition of his friend’s dead father in a disarmingly matter of fact way. Initially Hands has the ghost tantalisingly appear as vague light in the blackness…but then falls sadly foul of the lure of video technology. I don’t recall Shakespeare writing a stage direction that Hamlet should Skype his dad.
Equally unhappy is the cartooning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Surely no ambitious king would entrust the policing of his dangerous stepson to such buffoons. But all is forgiven when the wittiest Welsh gravediggers you could wish for deliver their time-honoured jokes.
There is much to admire in Hands’ Hamlet …but who will direct the next Clywd Shakespeare? The play closes with the old regime spent, and fresh forces marching into Elsinore. Allegorical, or what?
Photography: Catherine Ashmore
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