hamlet for laughs

Hamlet the Comedy

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

****

Fifty years ago, I did Hamlet for A level. The inimitable Oddsocks present a completely different beast to William Shakespeare’s version.

The five-piece, hard-working and versatile company present a topical, comical triumph. The bones of the story are there but the ‘comedy’ part brings a unexpected vitality that was supremely entertaining.

As Prince of Denmark, Hamlet (Theo Toksvig) has seen a ghost; his father, the King, who tells him that Claudius (Andy Barrow), his uncle, has killed him and taken country, Queen (Elli Mackenzie) and Crown for himself.

But Hamlet is in an agony of indecision – should he believe the ghost? Polonius (Jack Herauville), the King’s adviser, has a daughter Ophelia (Amber Lickerish) with whom Hamlet is in love.

Poor Hamlet is also torn there. Ophelia’s brother Laertes sets off for France and, in the meantime, Hamlet ‘accidentally’ kills Polonius, (Behind the Arras!), and Ophelia drowns herself when Hamlet rebuffs her.  

Hamlet organises some travelling players to re-enact the murder of Hamlet’s father – ‘The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’. It works a treat.

It isn’t a comedy in that everything ends happily ever after – Hamlet and Ophelia don’t trot down the aisle, Ophelia doesn’t learn to swim, Hamlet’s father isn’t brought back from the dead, Claudius doesn’t get his comeuppance. In fact, everyone, excluding the dog, ends up dead.

I don’t remember a dog in Hamlet and, no, it’s not a Great Dane.The dog, one of many puppets used to great effect, appears in a sweet scene where the Queen, affectionately known to King Claudius as ‘Gerty’ and prone to deliver a hefty thump on the rump are in bed discussing what to do about the seemingly mad Hamlet.

Polonius arrives and simply gets in bed too. It’s the dog who doesn’t take kindly to the visit; everyone else simply moves up one!

The final scene of the fight between Hamlet and Laertes is brilliant. Claudius engineers that Laertes’ spear and a drink are poisoned. Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes are victims of the spear; the Queen drinks the poison and dies, Hamlet dies in the arms of his friend Horatio – who drains the dregs. The ghost applauds the outcome and so did we. Directed by Andy Barrow, Hamlet will be dying to make you laugh to 16-06-22.

Jane Howard

14-06-22

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