If you are new to Shakespeare, trying to take in his longest and most quoted work could understandably be considered to be thrown in at the deep end.
But there can be no better introduction to the bard than this stunning production at the Bolton Octagon which presents an accessible and absorbing drama, as gripping as McMafia or Collateral, without compromising on the themes Shakespeare sought to explore more than 400 years ago.
Hamlet is the classic revenge tragedy – the story of a young prince attempting to avenge the death of his father at the hands of his uncle who has usurped the throne and the dead king’s widow. Hamlet’s obsession is at the core of this drama and David Ricardo-Pearce portrayal is excellent.
The universal and timeless themes are brilliantly explored with Denmark transformed into a more contemporary militaristic regime where the soldiers carry AK47s and the leaders are dictators akin to Stalin or Putin.
There are two halves of 75 minutes, punctuated by a 20 minute interval, and action flies by – such is the quality of the production.
And it is no one-man show. Brian Prothero is superb as the usurper, Claudio with Eric Potts delivering a suitably tragi-comic portrayal of the bumbling civil servant Polonius, recast as a priest for this production. Also worth a mention is Margot Leicester whose portrayal Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude – now married to her former brother-in-law, the new King – is sensational.
The Octagon’s former artistic director, David Thacker, who was invited back to direct this production, can be proud of what has been achieved. The theatre’s 50th anniversary season goes from strength to strength.
Runs till March 10.