Hamlet with Ian McKellen – St Stephens

Performance concept Peter Schaufuss and Ian McKellen

Director and Choreographer Peter Schaufuss

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The crown sits heavily upon this knight’s head, as Ian McKellen, to absolutely no one’s surprise, carries the abridged storytelling mechanics of Hamlet – reciting a ‘best of’ hits to an apprehensive and a famished crowd eager to see the man who played the role at the same Festival Fringe some fifty years ago.

The reinvention of majesty takes time, and Peter Schaufuss’ Hamlet holds itself to a standard it ought to recognise it cannot reach. Where the narrative aspects of ballet collide with an all-too-unfocused telling, frequently the significance of story details feels isolated, only for the subtextual brilliance to slip through open fingers and pointed toes, silent lips unable to signal the depth of emotion, faltering where movement should pick up the momentum and excel.

Utilising the dimensions of the building, sculpting the story into shape and shadow, flung across the wide-open walls as a thrust stage offer projection and promise, there is an unfinished magnificence in thought, weakened by the ill-connection of storytelling and dance. And though set to an original composition from Ethan Lewis Maltby, silence is the predominant predator, though potentially a benefit for emotional integrity and openness of the physical communication – Schaufuss’ choreography simply cannot hold the calibre of expectation.

And attempts to imbue this production with intertextual manipulation and storytelling do not translate to physical movement this time, though unquestionably they can. And though a rousing effort of fight choreography, the implementation is a refreshing wash just before the finale – too late in the game to make an impact.

Not without merit, individual sequences present a whisper of what could be. Katie Rose’s Ophelia performed delicately as her descent into madness couples with Johan Christensen’s building aggression as Hamlet. Glimmers of rage and envy speckle the dancer’s faces, but unless vocalised by McKellen, they aren’t translated to the movement with a sense of command or understanding – instead sitting at the more obvious surface level.

Perhaps taking the words of Hamlet a touch too serious: ‘How weary, stale, flat, and (un)profitable’, no mirth comes from the lacking enthusiasm surrounding this year’s hottest ticket. As revellers and onlookers will find glee and glory in watching McKellen’s continued triumph as a legacy of the stage, as this unorthodox staging takes roost within the revitalised St Stephens, to cheers yes, but more so to bewilderment and hollowness. 

‘Weary, flat, but profitable’

Hamlet – With Ian McKellen Runs at the St Stephen’s Theatre until August 28th (not 10th, 15th, 22nd)

Tickets for the entire run are sold out, however, any information can be found here.

Photo Credit – Devin De Vil

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