Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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What would Hamlet have been like as a child? Ophelia? Were they close? Did they squabble or were they the best of friends? Shakespearian Lovers, a new female-led company from Italy, attempt to answer these questions in Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One. In this version Hamlet is played by a woman, bringing a quiet, feminine sensitivity to the role considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest. Despite performing in their second language, the two women have a sound connection with the contemporary English text that shows the two grow from playful children to adults at Gertrude’s wedding to her second husband. There are some major issues with staging and the ending needs work, but this gentle, little play stays true to Hamlet’s personality as reflected in Shakespeare’s text and has the strong foundations of a good script.

Of the two performers, the perky Ophelia is the stronger. She has a natural curiosity and handles the English script comfortably. Hamlet is much more reserved and often too quiet to easily hear, but she has an intellectual intensity that suits the character. Though Hamlet’s femininity is not disguised, masculine pronouns are used throughout – the relationship in this piece wouldn’t differ from one gender to the other, Ophelia is clearly female but Hamlet’s ambiguity interferes with any potential statement about his gender.

The script has a sensible progression through childhood and into adulthood. They play as equals but as they grow, the difference between the son of a king and the daughter of a minister informs their interactions. The affection they have for each other is genuine and heartwarming, though the circumstances life deals them requires formal restraint, even through teenage hormones. The ending needs development and resolution in order to emphasise why the it is where it is, and the reason why this story is being told needs clarification, but the characterisation is sound.

The staging is the primary issue with this production. The venue is too small to allow space to be clearly differentiated through either distance or lighting and there is no backstage. Private moments lose their intimacy and physical expression is restricted, particularly when they are playing, and Hamlet tries to express his grief for his father’s death.

This is some promising work from a new international company. Even though a native English speaker’s advice would be useful to sort out a few minor mispronunciations, the confidence and ability both actors display in performing in a foreign language is impressive. With additional work on the script and fully realised staging, this has potential to be a great two-hander.

Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One runs through 28th August.

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