Peckham’s multifaceted cultural space, The Bussey Building, consistently nurtures art and music from the local area. This month it opens its doors to local theatre company, Shakespeare Peckham and their production of Hamlet. Nestled intimately in the CLF Theatre at the very top of the building, director Anthony Green’s production is sturdy, enjoyable and at times, thoughtful.
The primary discussion point is Anthony Green’s decision to have Hamlet played by three different actors. Green explains that each Hamlet represents a different stage in the young prince’s development; Hamlet one (Sharon Singh) is the ‘problem’ stage. Hamlet two (Max Calandrew) is the ‘plan’. Finally, Hamlet three (Izabella Urbanowicz) is the ‘solution’. In theory, the idea of an androgynous Hamlet is an interesting concept. Sharon Singh interprets Hamlet as an antagonistic and moody teenager. She is overshadowed by Calandrew’s interpretation who approaches the role with swagger and handles the soliloquies with confidence. Urbanowicz similarly flourishes as we reach the climax. Individually, the three performances are admirable but overall, it hinders the fluidity of character development. It almost feels like a competition, or a lengthy audition for who can portray the troubled prince the best.
The cast constantly swap and share roles in Hamlet Peckham. Calandrew flickers between Laertes and Hamlet. Following his accomplished portrayal of the protagonist, he struggles to slide back in to Laertes, Hamlet’s rival, at the end of the play. Pete Collis portrays both the ghost of Hamlet’s father and his usurper, Claudius. This functions effectively and is overall, unnerving. Gil Sutherland produces an experienced and comfortable performance as Polonius, and is certainly the strongest supporting character. All of the action unfolds before Michael Leopold’s monochrome set, which receives subtle changes throughout.
Aside from the three Hamlets, this production generally sticks to the ‘How to stage Shakespeare’s Hamlet’ blueprint. Those well-acquainted, and those new to the play, will find something to enjoy. Some directorial tweaks flitter into gimmicks, which is a shame. Encouraging audience participation, i.e. turning to the audience to finish ‘To be or….’ makes us feel like we are at a festive pantomime. It is not needed. An ‘accessible’ interpretation of Hamlet can be made possible through subtler methods, which this director and his cast are more than capable of executing.
Hamlet Peckham is straight-forward and largely, enjoyable, even if some of its features endanger diluting its dramatic tension. Still, go and watch it. It’s always well worth supporting Peckham’s surging cultural scene. Shakespeare does not take the Overground down to south-east London too often.