A review of ‘Hamlet’ by Roger Riddell

Creation Theatre and The Factory are bringing ‘Hamlet’ to the world, performing here at Blackwell’s Bookshop six nights per week.

Roger Riddell is a development specialist, an author and the father of one of our very fine booksellers, Becky, who works in the Fiction Department here at Blackwell’s. Roger saw ‘Hamlet’ on Monday evening – here’s his review . . .

What a wonderful evening! I had arranged to go and see Hamlet being performed at Blackwell’s in Oxford and, having not done my homework, did not realise that this was going to be something quite different from any theatre I had previously experienced.

Seconds before the play began, the main actors (including Hamlet) did not know which part they were to play: the evening started with members of the audience participating in a game of choosing who would play which leading role. With the main characters for the night selected, we were off.

Played in the round against the backdrop of bookshelves of scholarly tomes, the youthfulness of the cast and the absence of costumes (making the actors indistinguishable from many in the audience), an in-depth knowledge of the play with all its complexities, and the tangible pleasure that the Factory theatre company so clearly have in performing together, set the scene for an absorbing feat of engaging theatre. The momentum was sustained and the evening’s enjoyment considerably enhanced by the creative use made of an array of different “props” as the play proceeded. Members of the audience were each asked to bring a random object “large or small, ordinary or bizarre”. On Monday, this included a radio-controlled car, inflatable animals, climbing rope, a hula-hula skirt and a fresh leek. So well did the cast make use of these that I said to my companion I was sure some, if not all, had been “planted” and made to look as if they had been all been provided by this night’s audience. She assured me this was not so: the night’s performance really was unique.

The skilful blending of “everyday objects” (the props) and “everyday clothes” (no costumes) (not sure about this particular evening’s “everyday sound”: we had a brief rendition of a “Man United” song to accompany the waving of a Man U flag) provided the platform for perhaps the most notable achievement of the evening – helping us see Hamlet afresh and understand and unravel the play’s complexities for today’s Britain. For me, this production’s greatest successes lay in conveying the depressing moods and moments of the play in ways that were far from depressing (the evening was hugely uplifting), in challenging the view that it is predominantly Hamlet who is disturbed, and not, in part, the world about him and in creating a sense of optimism amidst the gloom. I left Blackwell’s more energised to try to save the National Health Service!

In a word, I found the evening “intoxicating”, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the Factory’s production of the Odyssey in a few week’s time.



Box Office: 01865 766266

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