This Room, Battersea Arts Centre

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Laura Dean has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She’s afraid she’s going to kill herself in her sleep so spends at least two hours before bed checking her house for anything she could use to self-harm. Scarves and tights are hidden away, as are knives and other sharp objects. She can’t sleep without her checking routine and after months of exhaustion, she’s had enough. An NHS diagnosis comes with a round of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions that help her recover, but introduce several ideas that make Dean question the nature of her self. This Room is a gently communal experience where Dean provides insight into the recovery process. There are plenty of clinical reports, forms and questionnaires but Dean’s individuality is never drowned out by these or by the condition she fights.

The audience is in Dean’s bedroom with her as she works through the most commonly held thoughts by people suffering from OCD. She confesses that she wants to know what’s going on inside her head so she can understand what’s really wrong with her, something she still hasn’t quantified after the pages of documented appointments she reads at lightening speed. The clinical nature of her recitations is a lovely juxtaposition to the soft, confession-like anecdotes from her treatment, most notably the session where her therapist (with the perfect bottom) visits her at home to confront her fears, represented by a serpentine tangle of tights, head on. The whole piece is intimate, quiet and deeply personal.

Dean has a soft strength that’s immensely watchable, whether she’s sitting silently on the edge of the stage clutching her water bottle, or reading her medical notes into a stand mic. The audience immediately sides with her, and dutifully responds to her questions. The empathy is tangible, and a group hug would not be out of place after the curtain call.

This Room avoids sentimentality or an overabundance of awareness-raising. Instead, it’s a personal account of a treatment process and an individual response to it. Will Dean ever really be well? If so, does that mean she’s not really herself anymore? These are big questions that don’t have an immediate answer, but are examined in a wonderful format that is a privilege to witness.

This Room runs through 27 April.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Hamlet, Who’s There?, Park Theatre

Some people are so precious about Shakespeare. There’s historical merit in periodic restrained, original practice productions, and modern productions with superficial concepts add a degree of variation, but neither approach progresses contemporary Shakespeare performance practice. The first folio texts, those regarded closest to Shakespeare’s intentions, still may be quite distant from what may have come from the actors in the moment. Scholars can only speculate on performance style, staging and most other production elements due to a dearth of primary sources. Considering all of that, theatre makers should mess about with Shakespeare more. 

Kelly Hunter does that with her Hamlet, Who’s There? by reconfiguring the original timescale and characters to place her adaptation firmly in the present. As two frivolous, tacky families with more money than sense drunkenly celebrate a wedding, a disregarded son suffers a psychotic episode that triggers their collective downfall. Six actors focus the tragedy on the familial element, making this more of a kitchen sink drama than a grandiose spectacle. This is a Hamlet that’s easy to relate to but still be horrified by. The intimacy is well performed and powerful, and Hunter’s script, whilst dramatically different from the original, still contains its visceral, conflicted essence.

Mark Quartley is Hamlet, an angsty, tormented young man disgusted by his elders. He excellently embodies the grief that tips him into Schizophrenia, making him believe he is his dead father. This device carries him forward on a mad quest for revenge. Quartley’s Hamlet is a victim, not just of his surroundings but also his own mind. Kelley Hunter is his drunk mother Gertrude, sloppy and self-absorbed. She’s a great contrast to Quartley, and also to her manipulative new husband Claudius (Tom Mannion), who keeps her well-lubricated throughout the story. The second family is a hapless Polonius (Steven Beard) and two children. Laertes (Finlay Cormack) has been wonderfully reimagined as Hamlet’s best friend, using lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Their brief encounters are intimate and warming, alleviating Hamlet’s otherwise relentless agony. The language comes easily to the cast, managing to not jar with the modern story. 

Though the performances are excellent, the highlight of this production is Hunter’s script. Pared down, it’s more Eastenders than Stratford, and the use of identifiable mental health issues and familial conflict help move it away from Shakespeare’s fantastical ghosts and dated duels. Ophelia’s madness is logically clarified through wonderfully disturbing staging, with Hunter also directing. The gravedigger scene is still present, but somehow fits in with the concept. Though the end is rushed and heavily changed from the original, it cuts a striking image. 

Hamlet, Who’s There? As a title also suits Hamlet’s mental health struggles as he searches for himself and the father that takes over his mind. Hunter’s set is sparse, but symbolic items and copious amount of blood are visually dynamic. The venue’s lighting balcony and ladder up to it are also cleverly employed.

Flute Theatre and Kelly Hunter’s script bring Hamlet firmly into the present with Hamlet, Who’s There?. It’s firm proof that Shakespeare can be made even more relevant through radical reinterpretations and confident textual adaptations. There’s no need to slavishly follow Shakespeare’s original scripts all the time, but still respect the integrity of the language and story. This is a fantastic production at the forefront of contemporary Shakespeare practice.

Hamlet, Who’s There? Is touring the UK and Europe through the summer.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.