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Icarus Theatre Collective

Hamlet: Prince of Denmark

UK & Ireland Tour
Jan - April 2017
A co-production with King's Theatre, Southsea
Hamlet

Hamlet: Prince of Denmark


by William Shakespeare
directed by Max Lewendel

Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation.

A company of seasoned classical actors embrace the brutality of the greatest play ever written. A gripping, ensemble style brings exhilaration and violence to the unforgettable music and delicacy of the words.

For information about our accompanying education programme, click here.

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Reviews

five starsReviewsphere, Caroline Malcolm-Boulton


To be or not to be, that is the question.

Whether a performance of an immortal play will rise-up and speak to a new generation, or fail to resonate and be branded as outdated and valueless.

Well, Icarus Theatre Collective's nine cast adaptation of Shakespeare's boundless tragedy was electric at every turn and appeared to impress its varied audience.

Through knitting together more traditional aspects of Shakespearian theatre presentation and dramatic practices with modern experimental twists, this revision gave a timeless story a fresh face for an emerging 21st century generation, one with a fragile relationship with classic literature.

For those who do not know or are unclear about the story of Hamlet, let's change that.

Published in 1603, the time Hamlet is set in is not clear, however, it is believed it is during the transition between the Medieval and Renaissance period.

Set in Denmark, a much beloved King dies, and within a month of his funeral, his brother swiftly marries the widowed Queen in order to gain her love and the throne.

But the one and only son of the deceased monarch, Hamlet, is left deeply grieved by his loss and is embittered by what he sees as his uncle and mother's lack of sorrow and betrayal of his father's memory.

Then one night, Hamlet witnesses a strange ethereal creature walking the palace grounds. The intrigued Prince discovers that it is the ghost of his father, who reveals that he was murdered by his brother.

Overcome by the horror of what he sees and hears, Hamlet promises to avenge his this wrong.

As the play goes on, Hamlet is unsure of how to proceed and even doubts the presence of the ghost. Did he imagine it? Or if true, was the apparition honest, or was it a demon come to bid him do evil? And with the concept of the divine right of kings, would retribution be a sin? Lost in his thoughts, he sinks into an intense depression and perhaps even madness.

The rest of the story follows the distressed and distracted lead as he considered what to do and battles his own inner torments.

With death, betrayal, revenge and loss acting as central themes in this violence packed tale, it is doubtless one of literature's grandest tragedies.

However, even although this play has a strong basis in action, bloodshed and shameful family secrets, it is predominantly an exploration of human psychology and emotional unrest.

Written during a time where humanist philosophies were influencing Shakespeare, reason and method, self-questioning, supernatural concerns and uncertainty are woven into the heart of the narrative.

Icarus Theatre Collective's adaptation of Hamlet brought all these premises to life through a complexion of subtle but compelling modern inclusions.

Hamlet himself (Nicholas Limm) proved to deserve his weighty role. In truth, for the opening scenes, I felt he was a bit wooden and lacked the flexibility required. However, as the acts progressed, he came into his own and seemed to move with natural versatility and resourcefulness, doing justice to his diverse character.

His performance echoed the conflicting elements and energy of the protagonist and the dark concerns that render him a complex philosophical being and his own antagonist.

The remaining eight players being Will Harrison-Wallace (Claudius), Kerry Gooderson (Ophelia), Portia Booroff (Gertrude), Andrew Venning (Laertes), Robert Harris-Hughes (Polonius), Camille Marmiť (Horatio), Phil Sealey (Guildenstern) and Virginia V. Hartmann (Rosencrantz), all gave a bold presentation of their own key roles and offered a rich dimension by switching casually, yet clearly between varying characters.

The use of constant smoke felt at first overly theatrical and I wondered whether its lingering presence cheapened its purpose. But, as the scenes went on, I saw that it offered a relentless atmosphere.

Its ambience reflected the core elements of supernaturalism, sinister happenings and the concept of foggy confusion and the varying polluted souls, all of which was inspired by the use of varying characters acting as spirits, thoughts or consciences.

This was aided by the fragmented music and use of sound, all of which furthered an air of disjointed passions, bitty actions and a sense of fleeting nerves or fliting feelings.

On the other hand, the black, solid set that remained throughout the acts gave a very different logic. It not only offered a practical stage for all scenes, but reinforced the idea of the harsh and unyielding features of the story and the equally severe and impenetrable consequences throughout.

The costumes were controversial, being neither thespian or contemporary. Their indecisive or evolving style and use allowed the past and the present to merge and gave the presentation of the characters and the action a more dynamic eloquence.

In all, Icarus Theatre Collective's adaptation truly had rebranded Hamlet for the Game of Thrones age. It was daring and experimental and often risky, but it worked and proved that it is indeed a living and ever fluid piece of literature that continues to inspire and transfix our fascination with tragedy.


Savage, Shalaka Bapat


Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays: his famous story of a brooding prince is rarely off the British stage. In keeping with their artistic policy to 'defy the stigmas surrounding mental health', the founder and director of The Icarus Theatre Collective, Max Lewendel, has focused this production on the prince's inner torment in an effort to raise awareness about mental health issues.

Nicholas Limm's Hamlet is full of unrestrained energy and emotion. Some of the most powerful scenes of the production are those when Hamlet's grief goes into free-flow, first in the bedroom scene with his mother Gertrude (Portia Booroff) and then over the death of Ophelia. Limm's performance powerfully communicates his sense of loss after his father's death, something enhanced by the production's innovative decision to personify his tumultuous thoughts on stage. Hamlet's psychological torment is brought to life by plain-clothed actors, who orbit around Hamlet, speaking with him in unison or arguing with each other in order to symbolise his frequently conflicting opinions.

This works particularly well in the tense scene in which Claudius (Will Harrison-Wallace) kneels to pray and Hamlet towers above him, knife in hand. Here, Hamlet's soliloquy is vividly brought to life by two other actors and the three of them proceed to argue and debate about whether to kill Claudius. By personifying Hamlet's internal conflicts, Lewendel foregrounds the play's concern with mental health and lends Hamlet's psychological disturbance a dramatic immediacy.

Ophelia's characterisation is similarly refreshing. While Ophelia has been interpreted as passive in the past, Kerry Gooderson finds new emotional depth and charm in the character. She frequently confronts Hamlet, asserting herself before him rather than meekly accepting his denial of his love for her. Her voice is unfaltering, exuding confidence even when she is made to second-guess herself by the men in her life.

Gooderson's sympathetic performance consequently makes her descent into madness all the more poignant. After learning of the death of her father, Polonius (Robert Harris-Hughes), Gooderson's performance shifts: she dispenses flowers to her fellow actors with a childlike sweetness and simplicity. Her shattered self stands at odds with her earlier strong-willed personality. Her performance highlights the fact that mental health issues can strike even the most strong-willed amongst us. Her eventual suicide is revealed to the audience and Hamlet in the same moment, creating an affinity between spectator and character, with Limm's portrayal of the prince's pain powerfully reflecting our own.

The characterisation of Hamlet and Ophelia aside, the otherwise traditional nature of the production often restricts its ability to dismantle stigmas surrounding mental health. The production's attempt to have an open, frank discussion about mental health and break down the stereotypes about mental illness that persist today would have benefited from being set in a more current context. A less elaborate set and more minimalistic costumes would have emphasised the conceptual issues the play was trying to tackle. Promoted as 'Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation', the gratuitously violent scenes - such as the fake blood in the final scene, which spews across the stage - also serve to sideline the more important issues that the production tries to bring to light. These fight scenes tend to become the moments of highest drama, moving the focus away from Hamlet's and Ophelia's state of mind.

Nevertheless, The Icarus Theatre Collective has clearly identified theatre's potential as a powerful medium through which to raise awareness of mental health issues. Aside from producing pioneering productions such as this, the company runs school workshops about mental health and drama. The company believe theatre 'allows [young people] to express their feelings in a non-judgemental environment'. This aim is of utmost social and artistic significance: Hamlet is, of course, not the only young person for whom thinking can turn into a prison.


Barnet & Whetstone Press
Enfield Gazette


Action-packed Hamlet does not disappoint


Friday, 24 February 2017 By Ciaran McGrath in Local People

Millfield Theatre, February 23

WITH high winds raging and dark skies overhead, it was somewhat appropriate that the Millfield was transformed into Elsinore for Shakespeare’s classic tale of revenge.

This production was billed as “Hamlet for the Game of Thrones generation”, and director Max Lewendel signalled his intent early on when Hamlet’s nemesis Laertes (tackled by the sparky Andrew Venning) brutally dispatched a duelling opponent in a river of stage blood.

The action moved at a brisk pace, with the titular hero (Nicholas Limm) transformed from a timid youth into a man of action when the ghost of his father (Will Harrison-Wallace) appears in a cloud of dry ice to reveal that he has been murdered by his brother (and Hamlet’s uncle) the treacherous Claudius (also played by Harrison-Wallace).

As a result, Claudius now sits on the throne of Denmark and to add insult to injury, has “with unseemly haste” married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Portia Booroff).

There was much to like in this production. Limm was particularly persuasive in the title role, torn between his desire for vengeance and his uncertainty in his own ability to do the job.

At times his lines were spoken by other actors, giving an indication of his inner turmoil as the different voices in his head compete for his attention. It made for a Hamlet who really was “but mad north-north-west”.

Limm was ably supported by Camille Marmié, who made for a confident Horotio, Kerry Gooderson as the brittle Ophelia, and Robert Harris-Hughes as the scheming Polonius.

As the action reached its grim finale, Laertes returns to seek vengeance of his own for the deaths of his sister (Ophelia) and father (Polonius) and before one could say murder most foul, bodies littered the stage, Hamlet was taking his final bow, and this reviewer found himself wanting more. Quite literally, this was bloody good stuff.

Shakespeare in Ireland

Posted by edelsemple

Review: Hamlet by Icarus Theatre Collective at Cork Opera House - 6th Feb. 2017
Review by Edel Semple

Icarus Theatre Collective's Hamlet, on tour in Ireland and the UK at present, packages itself as "Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation". In its set, costumes, and action, the production often nods to the popular HBO series, using the now familiar imagery to enliven and illuminate this iconic tragedy. Every character carried a sword, Gertrude and Claudius donned furs like trophies of a recent hunting party, and the pair sat in thrones decorated with a spear design that illustrated the interests of the "warlike state". Denmark's brutish culture, and Hamlet's alienation from it, was demonstrated early on as, for the court's entertainment, a brawny Laertes dispatched an opponent in a bloody knife fight. Huge Danish flags formed the backdrop for the stage and the unfussy set, with its pillars and tiered marble steps, provided plenty of scope for the cast to traverse from the battlements to the court to the graveyard. The play script was similarly economical; the performance time was a neat 2 hours 15min and the cuts were effective. For instance, the Fortinbras subplot was omitted entirely, as in many modern stage productions and Olivier and Zeffirelli's films, and the production was all the better for it.

The production had just a cast of nine but it seemed like much more as each actor played numerous roles and characters were rarely alone. On Elsinore's battlements, for example, seven soldiers stood on guard to be met by Horatio. In their exchange, the soldiers responded like a chorus; they would answer Horatio's question in unison, or one line would be shared by several speakers. In the opening scene, I found this an irritating distraction - it was, quite simply, clutter that got in the way of clear meaning and performance. Later in the play however, the chorus was used effectively and opened avenues for analysis. When Hamlet attacked Ophelia, the actor playing Gertrude said "get thee to a nunnery" before Hamlet repeated the line to Ophelia. This was perhaps a version of Gertrude in Hamlet's mind, taking his side and advocating chastity and an all-female environment as women's only route to safety.

As Claudius prayed, the chorus sometimes spoke to and for him. When the soldiers informed Hamlet of the Ghost's appearance, they stood around the stage; their voices acted like an eerie echo chamber and the effect was as disorienting as the supernatural encounter they described. This, however, brings me to a further criticism. Perhaps over-exposure to The Walking Dead and past Hamlets have influenced my expectations of the Ghost, but I feel short-changed when "Old Mole" in no way resembles a corpse (as in the Cumberbatch Hamlet) or a spectre (as in the Branagh and Tennant versions). As in other productions, Icarus' Claudius doubled as Old Hamlet but when he appeared on stage, save for some smoke and the fear of the soldiers, there were no signs that Old Hamlet was in fact supposed to be a terror-inspiring spectre. Thus as Old Hamlet looked remarkably healthy for a dead man, his scenes were a little lacking.

Overall though, this was a solid production with several flashes of brilliance. Besides the neat cuts to the script and clear vision in the set and costuming, there were striking moments made memorable thanks to the performances of the cast. The tag-team of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were one of the production's gems. Cast as a woman and man respectively, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern added some much needed levity to the seriousness of the Danish court. The pair appeared youthful, engaging in slapstick like tripping on the stairs and stealing Hamlet's letter from Polonius and Ophelia to mock the sentiment. Their betrayal of Hamlet was not an act of malice or cunning, but of immaturity; naively impressed by the king and queen, they held to a misguided allegiance to the monarchy rather than their old friend. In his rejection of the pair ("though you fret me you cannot play upon me"), Hamlet assumed all of his princely authority to banish them from his sight.

Although youthful, Hamlet was neither an effete intellectual nor a sulky teen. Unlike the erratic hyperactivity or inertia of other Danes, the performance by Icarus' Hamlet was confident and measured. When Hamlet did display intense emotion then, the impact on the scene was palpable. In the closet scene, Hamlet was pitiful when the Ghost reprimanded him and plain distraught when Gertrude could "see nothing there". During the Mousetrap, Hamlet jumped to his feet and squared up to Claudius, who visibly bristled with his hand on his sword; for a moment it looked as if vengeance would be had and an alternative ending was in store.

In the finale, Gertrude deliberately drank the poisoned wine; she determinedly defied her husband, protected her son, and chose her own (fatal) path. Following soon after, Claudius' death was an arresting affair that visually recalled the death of Fassbender's Macbeth; impaled by Hamlet's sword, the king died kneeling with his back to the audience, his head forever in a penitential bow. Horatio's performance was also particularly affecting. Cross-gendered casting was typical in the production - intriguingly Ophelia played the Gravedigger, a doubling I've not seen before - and Camille Marmiť was compelling as Horatio. Surrounded by the bodies of the royals, nobles, and the courtiers murdered by Laertes and Hamlet in their frenzy, Horatio sat forlornly atop a mound of corpses. With the omission of Fortinbras, Horatio's description of the "carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts" became a soliloquy where, like Hamlet before her, she toyed with the idea of suicide. Her life hung in the balance and, as the sole survivor of the orgy of violence, the audience were invested in her fate. After a tense moment, Horatio finally cast the poisoned chalice aside and the scene cut to black. Such was the strength of both performances, I could envision the actors playing Horatio and Hamlet exchange roles as Faustus and Mephistophilis did in the RSC Doctor Faustus (2016).

All in all, Icarus Theatre Collective's Hamlet is an invigorating and stylish production that captures the attention from the opening scene to Horatio's last word.



three stars

Bord GŠis Energy Theatre


To be faithful or not to be faithful? That is the question to be considered by anyone who takes on Shakespeare's signature tragedy, Hamlet, which charts the malign forces of murder and madness that challenge the sovereignty of the kingdom of Denmark.

Something is, indeed, rotten in the state: the king has been killed by his brother, Claudius, and his son Hamlet, true heir to the throne, has been thrown into a deep depression. The conflict is clear, the dramatic resolution less so. Will Hamlet (Nicholas Limm) sink into madness or rise above it to wreak his vengeance? Or will his lunacy in fact beget the best revenge of all?

This touring production from Icarus Theatre is at least superficially faithful. Under the direction of Max Lewendel, it retains a classical look and Lewendel makes no major changes to Shakespeare's text. The action unfolds against the backdrop of the castle at Elsinore, with veined marble and Danish flags dominating the visual field designed by Curtis C Trout.

There are some directorial interventions, however. The female characters are re-interpreted as warrior women, with Ophelia (Kerry Gooderson, in the most engaging performance of the evening) and Gertrude (Portia Booroff) battle-ready underneath their ballgowns.

There are several cross-cast roles too, most notably Horatio (played by Camille Marmiť) and Rosencrantz (played by Virginia V Hartmann). These alterations to traditional performance traditions lend a more contemporary feel, but they alter neither our understanding of the role of women in the play nor do they elaborate our understanding of the characters.

Lewendel's central vision for Hamlet is to provide a visual dimension to the aspects of conscience that dominate in the play's soliloquies. Thus, Hamlet's internal struggles are shared and echoed by a chorus of plain-clothed confidants, a strategy underscored in the key soliloquies delivered by Claudius (Will Harrison-Wallace), Laertes (Andrew Venning) and Ophelia. The occasions when several voices are speaking at once, however, work against the actors, who are already struggling to be heard above Theo Holloway's dramatic soundscape, which is used to give an epic thrust to the key scenes of conflict. The hard-working ensemble of nine would have been better served by a more intimate approach.

On opening night, the theatre was filled with eager Leaving Cert students and there is plenty of swordplay, a few bare chests, and a touch of smutty crossdressing to keep the interest of a young, contemporary generation. If the students haven't already been convinced of Shakespeare's genius, however, it is doubtful they will be converted by this production, which provides surface levels of visual engagement at the expense of clear meaning.

Hamlet is at the Cork Opera House on February 6 and 7, at The Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, on February 8 and at Siamsa TŪre, Tralee, on February 13 and 14.

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