After visiting one of Shakespeare’s great comedies on Friday, on Saturday I travelled to Richmond-upon-Thames to see how one of his greatest tragedies fared as a comedy musical.
Hamlet! The Musical is such an intrinsically silly idea that it’s no surprise that it had its genesis on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, first in 2001 and then with a reworked version in 2010. From there, the Royal & Derngate Theatres Northampton have developed it from a 50-minute fringe show into a full hour and a half.
And it’s a hoot, with a cast of six that pulls out every stop to make Hamlet! as funny as possible.
Jack Shalloo plays Hamlet as a cockney wide boy, with a puffer jacket doublet and plenty of bling. As in the original play, he is persuaded by the ghost of his dead father (Mark Inscoe, possibly the best vocal performer in the show) to kill his uncle Claudius (also Inscoe).
The lion’s share of the other roles fall upon the shoulders of Jess Robinson (who supplements her Disney princess version of Ophelia with a hoodie-wearing Horatio) and Gabriel Vick, whose Laertes is obsessed with Spanish flamenco before his stay in Paris turns him into a striped-jumper wearing, beret-topped stereotype. The pair also play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a pair of preppy puppets, freshly returned from Wittenburg University.
The musical numbers are all a delight, with the signature number of To Be or Not To Be an obvious highlight. Diego Pitarch’s set, portraying Elsinore as a series of ramshackle towers, unfolds to great effect.
If there’s a negative, it’s possibly with the choreography, which isn’t quite as coordinated as it could be. There’s a sense, I think, that as a comedy show it feels it can afford to be a little bit rough around the edges – but some tighter choreo would have lifted some routines just that little bit more. I dearly, dearly want to see a comedy Fosse routine that actually tries to be as precise as the choreography it’s satirising, for example.
But Hamlet! The Musical is a palpable hit. And while its short run is now over, I am sure that it will resurface soon. Once it does, do what you can to buy a ticket – you won’t find a funnier tragedy.