Not knowing what to expect from Tristan Sharps is part of the excitement. His fertile brain always seems to deliver something breathtakingly new and this year is no exception. After the huge acclaim for Before I Sleep in 2010 expectations were riding high. Could they pull off a success on such an epic scale once again? The answer is yes – but not by following on, far from it. This time Sharps gives us an almost cinematic experience, a Hamlet that takes the original script and carves it up to give it a tough, modernity whilst still using the beauty of the original language.
Set in a brutally minimal world of Scandinavian modernism, the set imprisons the audience on all four sides. Captive and captivated at the same time, visually challenged by activity all around and on varying levels, some film some real. The sound has a clipped quality, the mirrored windows isolating us from the real voices and speakers delivering them to us as we move around the room. The story unfolds in a literal sense too, this time we are not expected to wander and make of it what we will. Instead we are confronted, affronted even by it.
Claudius is the coolest politico, suave, suited and sinister, all smiles and insincerity. Gertrude is chillingly played with more than a hint of Cherie Blair about her. Polonius is a pompous obsessing prig but no fool. Ophelia sinks into madness with ease as the intensity and lunacy builds to breaking point. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are public school buffoons and Laertes the city slicker bent on revenge. The ghost of the King looms threateningly in and out of the action in both projection and reality, his presence affecting every character.
And through all this Hamlet broods, his mood darkening by the moment, the plot unravelling with the glowering bleakness of a Danish crime novel.
Sharp gives us his signature visual trickery of course, but this time it is delivered as a side dish to an explosively revealing dissection of Hamlet that proves that as a director of real theatre he is a force to be reckoned with. Possibly the most disquieting two hours of theatre I have ever experienced and without doubt some of the best.
Malthouse Estate Warehouse, 5 May 2012