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The Second Night
The Factory’s production of ‘Hamlet’ which I saw last Saturday, has doggedly remained with me; I continue to be excited about what I saw, to think about it and to talk about it to other people. I am not sure why – I felt healthily cynical on arrival - but suspect it’s something to do with the ownership I feel for it (after only one evening!). A small and obvious part of this feeling is that as audience members we were asked to bring along a prop of our choice to be included in the production (and don’t underestimate how exciting this actually is – I positively grew in stature as Polonius hid behind sheets of my kitchen roll before his untimely death at Hamlet’s hand!) Certainly this made me feel included but it was much more complex than that. Fundamentally I was asked to go on a journey with this company; sitting in a space as foreign to the actors as to me, watching the parts being distributed (Paper, Scissors, Stone…will you be Polonius or the Grave Digger tonight?), immediately there was a feeling of inclusiveness. We as an audience didn’t know what would happen next and nor did the actors. We started from the same place and moved forward together.
For me what followed can be summed up as clear story telling kept afloat by a combination of intense focus and flights of fancy (many ignited from the props provided by the audience; a packet of Revels, a Muji toy dog, a watering can, a box of tissues, boxing gloves…) There was a feeling of spontaneity to the whole production that I don’t ever remember experiencing in the theatre before. Perhaps the most complete example of this was in Ophelia’s mad scene. By its very nature madness is unrehearsed and does not conform to its surroundings. I have always found this a difficult scene to watch performed, both on film and in the theatre; the very nature of rehearsing over and over something that is in reality completely unformed seems a huge contradiction in terms. In this production the actress playing Ophelia, reacting not only to an unfamiliar playing space but also to the seemingly unsuitable props around her (Was the tennis ball she offered to Gertrude representing rosemary in our minds or only in hers?) had no choice but to bring an immediacy to her performance and through this a truth so often missing in this moment.
But this spontaneity of performance did not mean the production became a ‘free for all’ or self-indulgent in any way. This approach clearly requires discipline from every single actor, demanding that they remain in the moment. No one on stage can afford to think two lines ahead and yet must be aware of the shape of the whole play. The energy and focus of the company was palpable through out the whole evening. The result of which is that as an audience we were kept constantly in thrall. There was not a single moment in the play when things ‘coasted’; yes, some moments were more successful than others, but the moments that succeeded – and there were many – genuinely made my heart sing!
Kate Coleman 16th September 2007
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