Tag Archives: Harold Addo

“Hamlet” at St Pauls Church, Covent Garden

Iris Theatre has become a welcome fixture in Covent Garden over the summer months. Even after a decade, impressively, the company is far from resting on its laurels. Director Daniel Winder is always full of ideas, but this might be his most adventurous production so far. As is the nature of experiments, not everything here works. Yet failings come from the contrast in scale between Shakespeare’s epic and the production itself. Any lack is not a question of carelessness, rather, over-ambition and the production is often fascinating.

Taking the mammoth title role is Jenet Le Lacheur, a performer who identifies as transgender. That the production follows Le Lacheur’s lead makes it feel intensely personal. Hamlet is addressed as son and also “my lady”, adding immeasurably to the character’s complexity. Of course, Shakespeare is full of gender politics but this production becomes extraordinarily layered. To note just one instance, Hamlet’s relationship with Horatio (a fine performance from Harold Addo) becomes especially moving. Le Lacheur’s delivery is admirably direct: the lines feel fresh and easy to understand, making Hamlet appealing and often funny. The performance is one to be proud of and easy to recommend.

Let’s not forget how much goes on in Hamlet. It’s to Wilder’s credit that the action is easy to follow. But the themes that he wants to explore overwhelm his production. The idea of a dystopian future is aimed at but doesn’t hit home – although credit to Madeline Berry’s costume designs, which are intelligently evocative. The idea of a dictatorship never becomes oppressive enough. There’s a lot of messing around with mobile phones and an overreliance on video work. In themselves the films are fine (that Hamlet knows he is observed during his Act III Scene i encounter with Ophelia is a very nice touch) but the outdoor screens are too small or badly positioned. Altering the rotten state in question to England adds little. The military background to events pales and the invading Fortinbras is quite lost. The play’s religious ambiguities seem little explored – ironic given the setting of a church. A definitive production of Hamlet is impossible, but there are too many loose ends here given all the ideas set out.

Clare Bloomer and Jenet Le Lacheur

There’s a similar problem with the tiny cast. That each have so many roles to perform is hugely impressive. Jenny Horsthuis and Joe Parker seem seldom off stage and, if Clare Bloomer and Vinta Morgan stand out, it’s because they have two great moments in their main parts as Claudius and Gertrude. Paula James also benefits from a little more focus with her deftly handled Polonius. To top it all, nearly everyone has a go at the ghost (at least, I think everyone does), showing some top-notch movement skills and wearing a mask that could give you nightmares: praise again for Berry. That the ghost doesn’t speak is one of many smart moves from Wilder, but all the chopping and changing is distracting; the mechanics of the show can’t help but be laid bare as you start wondering how certain scenes are going to be handled given that there are so few people here.

Joe Parker as one of The Tragedians

The issue comes to the fore with the travelling actors and the play within the play that they perform. Presented as twerking tragedians, Club Kids with a touch of Leigh Bowery (a third mention here for Berry), is another interesting idea. The cast really go for the avant-garde edge, vogueing away with an unsettling air. But there are just too few of them to make the party atmosphere aimed at work. As with so much here, it’s an excellent effort – and well worth checking out. It just seems that six is too small a cast for Hamlet, especially for a show with so many ideas and so much intelligence.

Until 27 July 2019


“Treasure Island” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

A little damp weather can’t harm Iris Theatre’s ship-shape and extremely jolly adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure story. Ambitious sets by Valentina Turtur have taken over St Paul’s church and grounds, while a score from Candida Caldicot breathes further life into this fine children’s show. Eight and above is the recommendation, but parents have a strong chance of enjoying it just as much as their kids.

Director and adapter Daniel Winder’s clever move is to split the audience into privateers and pirates. A brave number of scenes feel like private affairs. While some of the audience battle it out on the good ship Hispaniola, another group mutinies by ambushing the Admiral (a superb Nick Howard-Brown). You’re either in or outside the stockade for a parlay, then you’re solving clues to find treasure or plotting to petrify the pirates. The gardens buzz and I wouldn’t be surprised at demands for return visits to see the other side of the story.

Harold Addo
Harold Addo

With this clever structure, it’s plain sailing for such a talented ensemble. Dominic Garfield is a suitably hirsute and downright dastardly Black Dog. Dafydd Gwyn Howells a swivel-eyed Long John Silver who’s as camp as you could wish. There’s a strong professional debut from Harold Addo as our hero, Jim. Anne-Marie Piazza wows for a second time this season as the indestructible Isabella Hands, an updated nod to the tradition of female pirates.

There’s just enough humour for the grownups and a big dose of audience participation for the kids, handled perfectly by the cast. Winder makes light of the “ticklish work” of finding treasure, steering clear of Disney by highlighting superstition on the high seas, pointing out just how much grog was swilling around and doing justice to Stevenson’s cynical look at class structure on board the ship, all the while expanding everyone’s pirate-related vocabulary with great skill. Yo-ho-ho and huzzah!

Until 28 August 2016


Photos by Hannah Barton