Hamlet (an experience), Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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By Laura Kressly

Shakespeare’s audiences were likely to be much more engaged with theatre performances than they are today. Emily Carding far surpasses any Elizabethan or Jacobean audience participation, however. This pared down version of Hamlet by the solo artist requires about half a dozen willing audience members to take on some of the key characters in Shakespeare’s play. The rest of the audience don’t just sit and watch, either – this is a collaborate effort.

Carding does as much as she can to make this a welcoming and fun experience. Each actor-recruit is given a packet with clear instructions, some character information and pared down dialogue. Sometimes all they have to do is let her talk to them. 

This Hamlet-centred approach is a good distillation of the play, even though far more is cut than kept. Hamlet’s key speeches are here, and Carding’s ‘To be or not to be’ is her strongest. Some of the others are a touch too heightened for the tiny space and in-the-round audience even though it serves the language. It’s a difficult thing to pitch, as Shakespeare’s works directly opposes the scale of this production.

The community feel of the show is what makes it shine. Collaboration is a driving force, and Carding needs the audience to participate or the show won’t happen – or at least, it won’t have much clarity. The audience demands are comfortably low – the limited audience size and lack of physical barrier between the stage and the audience helps. Though performative, it feels like a class exploring Hamlet together.

This would be a great production for schools and communities to engage people with Shakespeare who find the work in its original form off-putting. It shows that Shakespeare can be fun, as can making something together. 

Hamlet (an experience) runs through 26 August.

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