Hamlet in Castlefield

The evening is drawing in, the rain that delayed the start begins to spit again and the audience huddle under umbrellas.  In the distance the sounds of a drunken Saturday night spill out of Castlefield, a train rumbles past.  In the evocative and surreal open air setting of Castlefield’s Roman Fort, the birthplace of Manchester, Cream-Faced Loons are performing Hamlet.  On the battlements, cagoule clad figures create a chorus of Old Hamlet’s Ghost, with guttural whispers of ‘mark me’.  It may not be perfect weather for outdoor theatre, but the atmosphere is just right for the play.

I love what Cream-Faced Loons, led by director Abey Bradbury, are doing with Shakespeare, for example their Twelfth Night at Z-Arts. I don’t believe that Shakespeare should be performed to a reverential audience.  The words are meant to be worked, the actors have to draw the audience into the performance.  That is very much what Cream Faced Loons do, both in their choice of settings and the style of the production.  The script is well constructed for the place; key scenes drive the narrative, and the choice to give Ophelia more prominence enhances the later grave/funeral scene.

The central pairing of Hamlet (Harry Burke) and Ophelia (Bethany Greyson) is very effective, creating a relationship true to the original text but subtly contemporary.  Playing along a central area with the ground sloping away on both long sides (perhaps to death), the feel is as much that of a catwalk as a stage.  Movement along the ‘stage’ gives the play a feeling of transience, that the world of Hamlet exists across the whole physical location.  Hamlet himself treads well the fine line between knowing and unknowing.  The entire cast of eight put in strong performances with engaging and interesting characters.

I love the vision and ambition of this production, knowing how to use this complex site to best advantage.  I love the way that it is directed to put the audience at the heart of the story, that the cast know they have to work hard to keep the audience’s attention.  There are few other productions that can engage so completely for 90 minutes in the rain.

This was the last night of Hamlet (19-22 July) but you can catch Cream-Faced Loons playing King Lear in Alexandra Park from 4 – 6 Aug.  I suspect it’ll be just as good!

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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