It’s official. The 2016 Shakespeare Season at the Tobacco Factory is underway.

In this special year of celebration for the Bard (23rd April marks 400 years since his death), Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres are paying fitting tribute with a production of one of his most famous tragedies – Hamlet. And what an exceptional production.

Hamlet Tobacco Factory Theatres

Hamlet, co-produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres, photo credit Mark Douet

In the opening scene, Hamlet’s father is already dead. By the closing scene, so is almost everybody else. The intervening three hours are a gallop through grief and madness as young Hamlet swears to avenge the "murder most foul" of his father not two months earlier. A murder that he believes the new King (his Uncle) committed.

The 15-strong cast is wonderful. Paul Currier makes an oily and duplicitous King Claudius, growing plump and pompous on his dead brother’s throne. Julia Hills is highly strung Queen Gertrude, engaged in hand-wringing, brow-furrowed anxiety every time she’s on stage. You may also spend a good twenty minutes wondering where you know her from (she played Rona in ‘90s sitcom 2point4 Children). Isabella Marshall gives a very unsettling performance as the frail and tragic Ophelia, while her father, Polonius (Ian Barritt) is an unexpected delight. All the laughs belonged to him.

co-produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres

Hamlet, co-produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres, photo credit Mark Douet

Of course, Alan Mahon as young Hamlet steals the show. There’s no hammy over-performance here and he isn’t so much talking to himself during his soliloquies as talking to us, the audience. He must have made eye contact with everyone in the room at points, drawing us one by one into his desperate world.

Throughout the play every line is imbued with such meaning that there’s no question of the actors losing the audience. If you’re a linguaphile like me you’ll also love spotting the turns of phrase that have crept into our everyday language from this very play, phrases like "method in his madness", "never a borrower nor a lender be" and "there’s the rub".

Hamlet at the Tobacco factory

Hamlet, co-produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres, photo credit Mark Douet

Yes, something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but there’s nothing rotten about this solid gold production. It had everyone talking on the way out. To go, or not to go. That is the question. Definitely go. You won’t be disappointed.

Shakespeare Season is co-produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres. Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well are part of the 2016 season between 11th February and 30th April at Tobacco Factory Theatres. The productions then tour until 18th June. Book tickets here.

By Wendy Johnson

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A popular theatre and café bar in Southville, with a programme of touring and in-house productions, childrens' and music events