Richard Spaul in Hamlet

Review By Silvano Squizzato

The version of Hamlet by in situ: is a unique one-man show, such an unusual, compelling, gripping performance that the audience yesterday froze in silence for several moments after it was over, barely able to make any move or whisper any words, from a reverential fear of breaking the spell.

When you enter the Leper Chapel you get transported immediately to Elsinore Castle and become part of the tragic events unravelling through abuse, oppression, state machinations and acts of violence.

Most of the original work is about only one character, young Hamlet. Here, without over-focussing on that single character, the performance accompanies the audience on his personal journey through fears, memories, ambitions, expectations, doubts, hallucinations. On the one hand he is cruel, murderous, lacking all compassion in his actions; on the other hand he is extremely frail, insecure, obsessed by his own thoughts, his remorse, and his mental nightmares.

From time to time – particular in relation to Ophelia’s tragic suicide – Shakespeare’s text is also interspersed with fragments from ‘Hamletmachine’ by Heiner Mueller. This blending adds yet another crucial overtone to a show already rich with nuances.

The attempt to tell the complex story of Hamlet by a single performer may appear a titanic feat doomed to fail. But the outcome is surprisingly the opposite. The audience is completely drawn into the play through a captivating narration based on formidable energy and intensity.

The staging is minimalist: one actor constantly active, a pile of chairs and a few fragments of paper distributed to the spectators. The movement and acting are restricted to a cruciform trajectory between four chairs chosen as cardinal focal points.

Suddenly and mysteriously, by a clever use of the voice and a variation of registers, dialogues and scenes involving a multitude of characters become possible. Simultaneous actions take place at the same time, frenzied rapier fights happen in slow motion, supernatural appearances occur; even the ‘play within a play’ is rendered with rare clarity and poignancy.

The intentional reduction of the number of performers to the bare minimum, the confinement of movement and gestures, the right script cuts, the elimination of superfluous objects and costumes – all these work exceptionally well to condense the play, remove distractions, open up new dimensions and interpretations to the audience.

Plus, given the distilled reconstruction, emotions and feelings are suppressed so that the text speaks for itself. In the end, Shakespeare’s words become the real protagonist, and the naturalistic delivery lowers the linguistic barriers that traditional, declaimed performance often imposes on modern listeners. In this Hamlet, the language is not alien – spectators can hear and follow conversations, understand questions and answers.

Those watching are there, and they are part of the play.

Richard Spaul in Hamlet

REVIEW BY CHRIS AND DAVID BUCKTON

Hamlet is a quite extraordinary tour de force. It seems to me a remarkable gift to be able to move so closely amongst an audience without all the customary accoutrements of a stage performance – costume, props (apart from four chairs and a few bits of screwed up paper), scenery, lighting and business generally – without ever once being other than this extraordinary focussed force compelling attention to extraordinary events.

I think you need to know this play quite well to get full value; I know parts well, others less so, and occasionally lost track. Playing two- and three- way conversations – was it helped or slightly disadvantaged by changing position for each character? Would a simple turn of the head have been enough? Not sure. Also not totally sure about the “voice”; for me sometimes a powerful sense of some sinister dread, sometimes an interruption in the onward flow of the drama.

I can’t think where else you could hope to have an experience like this. There are too many moments of intense engagement with the life and mind of this troubled prince to list them all – the engagement with Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, with the players, the grave scene, are some that stay in the mind for me; but after an hour and a half of unflagging concentration and drive, you leave slightly wrung out by the sheer intensity of the performance. Go and see it, and say what you think.

Richard Spaul in Hamlet

REVIEW BY SUSAN QUILLIAM

Hamlet is a play I know well. I have a natural interest in the English language, my education focussed on literature, I am involved in theatre work – and here need to confess to currently being one of the in situ: company. So I’ve studied the play, attended productions, even on occasion performed it.

Have I ever seen a version more impactful than this one? Well, no.

Why? Some stagings of Hamlet I’ve seen put huge effort into period costume, elaborate scenery, dramatic tricks – I am inexorably reminded of the recent version which ran the whole of the second half of the play with the entire stage filled by mud. In contrast, the in situ: version uses the natural setting of the Leper Chapel and just four chairs. A staging that strips away all distractions.

Some productions I’ve witnessed have trumpeted the breadth of their cast, big names plus a long list of support actors to cover the 32-long catalogue of Hamlet personae. The in situ: version is a one-man show. Richard Spaul plays all the roles himself, beginning with a spine-chilling embodiment of Hamlet’s father’s ghost – an embodiment which recurs increasingly to signal the many mortalities in the play – and then gradually taking on all the main characters and a few of the minor ones. A single performer, through which everything is channelled.

Some versions of Hamlet attempt to do it all; Shakespeare’s original script, if reproduced faithfully, can take four hours. This version cuts it down to just under two, a decision which pares the originally complex plot to its bare bones and so allows us to concentrate on the core story and essential themes. Text instantly more accessible, approachable, direct.

As is the acting. No declaiming. No orations. Much of what Richard Spaul does during this performance is almost conversational, even when – perhaps especially when – emotions are running high. Hamlet’s descent into madness, so often overplayed, is manifested as a variation on normal – exactly what mental illness is. The description of Ophelia’s suicide is interrupted with a conversational aside, leaving us as confused and disturbed as we would be were we actually hearing the news of someone’s death. The fight scenes and ensuing relentless slaughter which marks the climax of the play are delivered in neutral tones, the only action Richard’s pacing around the stage.

But what of the violence, the terror, the anger, the heart-wrenching sadness that makes Hamlet one of the most powerful works in the English language? Where is the emotion in this simple, downplayed performance?

The answer is genius. The emotion is ours to provide. By stripping Hamlet down to its essentials, Richard demands that we the audience feel the complex passions that are ever-present in Shakespeare’s text but all too often obscured by production.

And, trust me, we rose to the challenge. In the performance I attended, Richard’s last line – the final words of Hamlet “And the rest is silence” – were followed by a literal long, long silence as we the audience attempted to take in what we had witnessed, as we processed the horror of what had been played out before us.

Yes, applause followed. But only after we had stepped back into the real world from the world which had been so wonderfully created around and within us over the past hours.


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