REVIEW: ‘Hamlet’ – Ad Lib Theatre Company

Ad Lib Theatre promised a ‘unique outdoor theatre experience’ and they delivered exactly that. Minimal set, minimum props, maximum talent – that’s all that was needed for this open air production. 

Set amongst the magnificent grounds of Northwood House, the rain passed just in time as members of the audience started piling in with their picnic blankets and camping chairs ready. Members of the cast began to appear and they welcomed the audience in full character for a pre show ‘Q&A’, which was a fabulous interactive feature and helped to immediately set the scene. 

With an invitation from the performers, the audience were quickly transported to the grounds of Elsinore – Denmark, to witness the wedding celebrations of Gertrude (Hamlet’s Mother/Queen of Denmark) and Claudius (The King of Denmark/Hamlet’s uncle). A rather bittersweet celebration as whilst everyone celebrated his Mothers wedding, Hamlet mourned the death of his beloved Father – There was certainly something rotten in the state of Denmark! 

Claudius was played with confidence and enthusiasm by Jason Harris. Jason also took on the challening role portraying the ‘Ghost’ of the late King Hamlet and should be commended for ensuring this switch between his two characters was clear for the audience. 

Maureen Sullivan’s portrayal of Hamlet’s Mother -Gertrude,  was highly relatable. Maureen only needed to make a certain facial expression and the audience knew exactly what she was thinking – a rare skill to find on stage and really great to watch.

Director Si Lynch and his creative team must be congratulated for having courage to step away from the normal expectations of a Shakespeare production. Choosing to cast a female in the iconic role of the Prince of Denmark could have proven tricky with the wrong casting, but fear not my Lords and Ladies, for the casting could not have been better.

Emily Scotcher’s performance of the ‘Prince of Denmark’ was simply captivating. Emily’s commitment and dedication to getting Hamlet just right was clear. Barely getting a moment to breathe from her 700+ lines – Emily completley owned the stage. Whilst she is no stranger to leading roles on our Island stages, accepting this demanding, powerful and masculine role really took Emily’s acting skills to the next level. We bow down to you Prince of Denmark – Bravo!

Another outstanding performance was Bryony Bishop who played Ophelia – (The daughter of Polonius and Laertes’s sister). Bryony highlighted what an extremely versatile actress she is and moved the audience to tears with her portrayal of Ophelia – who is overcome with heartache over Hamlet’s unrequited love and manipulation. Bryony excelled, taking the audience on a real emotional rollercoaster as poor Ophelia spiraled out of control due to overwhelming grief with the sudden loss of her dear Father – Polonius. 

Polonius, was played with great gusto by the very experienced performer Paul Stevens. Paul proved once again he has this ability and skill to charm any audience with his various comedic facial expressions, but also showed he could portray Polonius’s softer, more nurturing side – which he showcased brilliantly in his opening scenes alongside his children – Ophelia and Laertes. 

Patrick Barry was just perfect as Laertes. Patrick had great stage presence, clear diction and really brought his character to life. Patrick took on more of a challenge in Act 2 and has to be commended for his realistic portrayal of both a loving brother and devoted son who sought revenge for them. The carefully choreographed sword fight between Patrick and Emily, literally left the audience on the edge of their camping chairs and was a real highlight of the evening. 

Dream team duo Andrew Wilson-Jenner (Player King “Gonzago”) and Olivia Pike (Player Queen “Baptista”) had the audience in fits of laughter during the play within a play section. Their comedy timing was on point and they showed how well they work together during their audience interactions, which really lifted the show.

Another fabulous comedy duo were Rob Bingham as Rosencrantz and Scott Walsh as Guildenstern (Hamlet’s childhood friends) who bounced off each other and brought some extra humour to even the darkest of scenes. 

Ches Checkley played Horatio (Hamlet’s best friend) with energy and confidence. The scenes between Hamlet and Horatio were particularly believable, as their real life friendship and chemistry shone through. 

Smaller roles were also delivered well by Tom Ferguson as Fortinbras, Karl Whitmore as Osric and Fizz Bates as Bernardo / assistant director. Even director Si Lynch got involved as both Marcellus and the Gravedigger – much to the audience’s delight.

Talking to Vectis Radio earlier this month, Si Lynch reported ‘If you think you know Hamlet, think again!’ and he was right as the audience left Northwood with a completley different perception, respect and clearer understanding of Hamlet. 

At only an extremely reasonable price of just £8 a ticket, Ad Lib certainly made Shakespeare accessible for everyone but hurry for there are only two more chances to watch Hamlet – Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June at 6.30pm. 

There is only one thing left to say….

To see or not to see.. that is the question? You’d be a fool to miss it!

Tickets for the last two performances can be purchased directly from www.northwoodhouse.org/events


Reviewed by Rosie Sales

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