It’s purely anecdotal, but it feels like one-person shows have become vastly more popular over the past few years. It makes sense: they’re cheaper to produce, easy to tour, give theatre makers autonomy, often experimental in form and a great way to hone performance skills. They’ve quickly become much more sophisticated, are moving away from their performance art roots and can be about anything. It’s a form that’s extremely hard to execute well, and most solo shows I’ve seen have been ok. Some have been brilliant, some have been terrible. I hoped that Hamlet our brother, considering it’s a Shakespeare-based one-person show, would be the former but the unclearly conveyed concept pushes it away from that end of the quality scale.
This isn’t an awful production by any means, but making a one-person show using Hamlet was never going to be easy. It’s Shakespeare’s longest play and arguably, his character most open to interpretation. Julia Stubbs Hughes seeks to tell the story from Horatio’s perspective but limits herself to only using Shakespeare’s text. There’s plenty to work with at 4,042 lines (and she adds a bit of the Bad Quarto as well), but Hamlet our brother bears more resemblance to a “Best Of” Hamlet than a particular perspective on the story’s events. Clarity isn’t improved by the use of a lot of content that Horatio isn’t present for and it would be easy to mistake the performer (Jeffrey Mundell) for the title role. Whilst the idea of deconstructing Shakespeare into other performance structures is a fascinating one that should be explored, in this case Stubbs Hughes stuck too close to the original source material, interfering with her concept of Horatio recalling the play’s unfolding. If Hamlet our brother is set in a world outside the original, new dialogue to add even the most basic exposition would have huge benefit.
Though the concept and script don’t work, they are the only weak points in this production. Mundell’s intense, physical performance is fantastic, as are the design components. Karl Swinyard’s set, two rows of copper pipes forming a cell-like corner, is simple but creates striking shadows with Katie Nicolls’ lighting. Their surprising fluidity and balletic potential is underused by director Timothy Stubbs Hughes. Philip Matejtschuk’s composition and sound design are also neglected by Stubbs Hughes; it’s presence adds atmosphere and precision to the story that could have more variety to the moods with the addition of a full score.
Hamlet our brother needs clarity in the execution of the concept and a concise point of view: what makes Horatio’s perspective unique? What happened next that makes him doomed to relive this tragic tale over and over? Though these questions remain unanswered by the script, Mundell’s interpretation of the tortured Dane and the visual and aural landscape built by the designers helps detract from the confusion.
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