Review: 4**** Hamlet – St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden @Iristheatre

Tweetingit: 4* A beautiful setting and confidently staged version of a classic Shakespeare tale. Even better the rain stayed away…hurrah!


A damp early morning drizzle had thankfully given way to a bright, warm summer
evening. Performers entertained a crowd on the piazza while an endless throng of tourists passed through. Open air productions are naturally a hostage to the weather; but the gods were kind as the Iris Theatre presented Hamlet at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. The Actor’s Church looked majestic with its picturesque gardens bathed in sunshine. The action gradually moved around the landscape for each scene, occasionally dipping inside the church to make the most of awe inspiring architecture. Designed by Inigo Jones and finished in 1633, it can easily pass as an authentic Elizabethan building; and so provide a convincing setting for Shakespeare.

Like so much of the Bard’s work, Hamlet plugs into themes that remain timeless and universal. The story lands on Prince Hamlet played by Jenet Le Lacheur. Following the death of his father, kingship has passed to Uncle Claudius (Vinta Morgan) who marries Gertrude (Clare Bloomer), widow of the dead king. Secret machinations abound as Hamlet mourns his dead father, but who can he trust; eyes and ears are everywhere? But he does at least have the support of friend and confidant Horatio (Harold Addo). At court, Claudius takes counsel from Polonius (Paula James) and grants Laertes (Joe Parker) permission to resume his studies in France. Ophelia (Jenny Horsthuis) has designs on the Prince; but her father Polonius warns against the liaison. What revelations will now be brought to bear?

The Iris Theatre has reduced open air productions to a fine art. The design and staging is pretty much spot on; brown military uniforms with red and gold trim bring to mind images of the old Soviet regime; while TV screens lining the performance area offer a great contrast between the classic and modern. Characters would send each other emails; video clips simultaneously played on screens adding a unique dimension to the story. Inevitably with outdoor shows the sound quality suffers, particularly with noise overspill from street entertainers.

Scenes inside the church reached high drama purely because of the spirituality engendered by its surroundings. There were also some excellent set pieces which used the interior to great effect. The cast were charismatic and engaging, making every breath and syllable count. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play with the full version clocking up around four hours. The Iris Theatre sensibly restricted the production to a more manageable two hours thirty minutes. It means the best lines stand out even more; like ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions’. Ain’t that the truth!?

Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Winder
Producer: Iris Theatre
Booking Link: https://iristheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows
Booking Until: 27 July 2019

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