One of the more striking things about this seventy minute version of Shakespeare's Hamlet is that the entire time the audience is watching the play, they are doing so in the same lighting as the actors.
Hamlet (Justin Avoth) and Ophelia (Emma Fildes) [courtesy New Fortune Theatre]
John Russell Brown directs Hamlet The Outsider with an immediacy that makes the lines ring true, though individual nuances seem to be left to the actor's interpretation of their own character. This may be one way to note that the directing has been most effective, as the lines seem to spring not only from the actors' lips, but from their emotions as well. Justin Avoth's Hamlet could almost be seen as cinematic, were it not for his all-encompassing facial expressions, which seem tailored to reach those seated in the back rows of a large theatre. However, this grandness of expression is tempered with neat underplaying in some of Hamlet's pivotal moments, which paradoxically makes the actor's judgement, and, that of his director, seem sound in the context of his approach to his role. Emma Fildes stands out, as well, as Hamlet's lady love Ophelia, though her scenes of madness could do with a trim, as the ethereal quality of her character, is by nature, elusive. Karen Archer offers a strong, emotional performance as Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, though the Oedipal nature of her relationship with her son seems somewhat encapsulated.
Hamlet (Justin Avoth) and his mother, Gertrude (Karen Archer) [courtesy New Fortune Theatre]
Hamlet the Outsider is a generally well-presented production, though at times, rather haphazard sound design which seemed to take its cues more from Seventies television than anything relating to Shakespeare, threatened to overlap the actors' lines. If the tone of the production was that of soap opera, such a connection might be justified, but the high calibre of the acting warrants more thought. Shakespearean scholars and those who relish each and every word of Shakespeare's plays may find this pared down version of one of his greatest somewhat limited. However, as New Fortune Theatre have made it their business to focus on specific aspects of Hamlet's story, employing dialogue relating to it, I'd say their ends have justified their means. For theatregoers who prefer to get to the meat of the matter in little more than an hour will find all they need to digest of one of the world's finest literary texts not only alive in their performance, but also, well done.
• In rep until 10 June