From the moment it was announced, the combination of Shakespeare’s most famous tale of tragedy and Sir Ian McKellen sharing the title role, made Hamlet the show to see at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
This isn’t McKellen’s first time in the role of Hamlet (he first played the part in the early 70’s). It is, however, a very uniquely captivating interpretation of Shakespeare’s longest play. Abridged to a perfect seventy-five minutes, the story is primarily told through contemporary ballet, with McKellen giving voice to Hamlet’s soliloquies.
The role of Hamlet is shared; while Sir Ian speaks, Johan Christensen dances. The pair stay close to each other, maintaining a physical contact whenever possible to reinforce that they are one and the same, and while one uses his voice, the other physicalises the emotions.
The ballet itself is astounding, and a very talented company surround McKellen and Christensen, mesmerising the audience with Peter Schaufuss’s flawless choreography. Benny Goodman’s lighting is one of the many hidden stars of the show, not only adapting to the story, but casting imposing shadows high on the walls of Ashton Hall, so the audience feels completely enveloped by the state of Denmark.
The Venue is ideal, the thrust stage and members of cast leaving and entering via the audience gangways further adds to this sensation that we are all part of the story. I found myself completely overwhelmed with emotion as Sir Ian stood directly behind me to deliver the final scene… ‘Good-night sweet Prince’.
It wasn’t the first time I had felt overcome, if it’s not too cliché, I felt goosebumps the moment McKellen first spoke, his voice ricocheting off those Ashton Hall walls. What took Shakespeare swathes of text to get across, the dance conveyed with the kind of beauty rarely seen on stage. Luke Schaufuss’s Horatio was particularly captivating, seeming always present on the periphery, while Kate Rose as Ophelia gave the part rich new meaning.
This production of Hamlet really focusses in on young Hamlet’s grief following the death of his father, and while the story is told mainly through dance and spoken word, it would be nothing without the accompanying music from composer Ethan Lewis Maltby. These glorious compositions, bathed in nuance, not only becomes the third storyteller, but creates the perfect ambience in every scene.
This Hamlet will not only be the show to see at the Fringe, but its unrivalled excellence will also secure its place in history as one of the finest re-tellings of the Bard’s work, and those of us lucky enough to see it will never forget the profound impact it had on its audience.