Smashed Shakespeare: Hammered Hamlet
HANNAH QUINN recommends a May Week show where the audience has as much fun as the actors.
Red Buildings Lawn, Pembroke College, 6.30pm, Thursday 20th – Saturday 22nd June, £5/6
Before I started writing this review, I googled some alternatives for the word ‘drunk’: Fried. Ossified. Sozzled. On the giggle water. Tight. Juiced. All wonderful, I hope you’ll agree. All also sadly unused, because they make me sound like I’m from the twenties, and a prat.
That was relevant (sort of) because the premise of this show, as director/compere Pete Skidmore put it so eloquently at the beginning, is, well – you know Hamlet? That. But drunk. ( Slash ossified, fried, juiced.) Horatio (James Evans) and Gertrude (Hellie Cranney – who played the same character in Lady Hamlet, fact fans!) were our designated drunks. I had my doubts about how hilarious it would be to watch some pissed actors forget their lines – turns out very hilarious, immediately and consistently. It would be pointless to tell you about each funny bit, not least because it’ll be different each time, but it involved hugging audience members, falling asleep on stage, and telling us about rehearsals (or lack thereof). It all got very meta, but without being pretentious. A personal highlight was ‘This isn’t even a map, it’s an index!’ I can only applaud them, and wish them the best and shortest of hangovers, because they really did make this show brilliant.
Perhaps surprisingly though, Skidmore’s production managed to deliver on the Hamlet as well as the Hammered. The sober actors provoked less laughter, but were still impressive even by normal, sober standards. Occasional line stumbles and corpsing notwithstanding, they handled the constant improvisation impressively, and the drunken actors freed them up to improvise and interact with the audience even when Evans and Cranney were backstage. At first I thought they might have been overacting, but as the show went on it became more and more obvious that this wasn’t just Hamlet plus booze, this was Hamlet: the Comedy. It’s a fairly brave choice, but one that is helped by inventive props and copious cuts (which really can only ever improve Hamlet anyway – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will never be anything but dull). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hamlet where everyone, audience included, is having so much fun.
The obvious problem with reviewing this show is that it’s going to be different each time, but I think I can say fairly confidently that it’ll still be amazing. Actually, thinking about it, I’m tempted to go again. The play has clearly been directed with “things-that-are-difficult-to-do-when-drunk” in mind, but not to the detriment of the story, or even, mostly, to the language. Instead, it’s an inventive and witty show which works both comically and dramatically. Hamlet is a play which easily becomes worthy and, dare I say it, slightly boring, so this irreverent take was particularly welcome. The Ophelia/ Hamlet dynamic especially is a refreshing antidote to the mopey lovers so many directors go for. And, well, any production of Hamlet which includes Gertrude yelling “WOMEN ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE SEX” is a good one. Fact.