Theatre Review: Hamlet (Iris Theatre, London) ★★

Presented in promenade in and around the grounds of St Paul’s Church in the middle of London’s Covent Garden, Iris Theatre has created a gender-fluid production of Hamlet that is filled to the brim with ideas, probably more than it knows what to do with.

The action has been moved from Denmark to a nationalistic Britain with Nazi-esque flags flying and brutalistic set-design. Here Hamlet is the non-binary transgender Prince (the personal pronouns flip depending on who’s speaking), slowly unravelling after his father’s death and plotting revenge.

A svelte cast of seven play all the roles with some scenes being delivered via video-screen, as political broadcasts, video-messages or otherworldly interruptions. Some roles have been gender-flipped and this non-binary Hamlet is played by non-binary transgender performer Jenet Le Lacheur. Le Lacheur’s performance slides between gender roles scene by scene. Masculine in voice and tone (the performance bore an uncanny resemblance to David Tennant), androgynous in appearance, fluid in sexual advances (there’s more sexual chemistry with Horatio than with Ophelia).

All the changes, the setting and the gender flipping however end up being, to steal Shakespeare’s own words, “much ado about nothing” distracting from the text rather than enlightening it. Some of the choices seem to be working against their own intentions, the gender-flipping of Polonius seems to undercut any commentary on gender norms. Making the Players a group of club-kids, faux-Vogueing in front of footage from Paris Is Burning, makes them seem even more distant from Hamlet than they are from the rest of the court. This feels like three Hamlet’s mixed into one.

The design of the ghost is effective, although it does looks more like Bette Midler’s back-up in the ‘Oh Industry’ scene in Beaches, than Hamlet’s dead dad. And there is an odd moment when the audience witnesses the apparent murder of Ophelia (via surveillance video, while the audience is promenading to a new location), but it doesn’t add anything to the production and sticks out as an oddity.

While I applaud the intention behind the production, it fails to pull together into a coherent whole. Any commentary on gender, is lost in the mix and we’re left with a scattershot Hamlet.

By Chad Armstrong

Hamlet is performed in the grounds of St Paul’s Church Covent Garden, London 19th June – 27th July 2019. For more information and to purchase tickets head to the Iris Theatre website.

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