Tag Archives: Shubham Saraf

“Hamlet” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Six free plays to help theatre-goers on lockdown, along with lots of interesting content and even the show’s programmes, have been made available by Shakespeare’s Globe. My first choice, the one I most regretted not seeing when I had the chance, was Michelle Terry’s performance as The Dane. Marking Terry’s appointment as the venue’s artistic director in 2018, while a female Hamlet is nothing new, it was a bold risk. It’s pleasing to say the confidence paid off – Terry is fantastic and the production very good.

Directed by Federay Holmes and Elle While, aside from having a woman in the title role (which surely shouldn’t shock… but still) this is a sensible, even traditional, show. There are even, mostly, period costumes in Ellan Parry’s design – all a part of rendering the play accessible and the delivery natural. As a part of these admirable qualities, this is also a snappy show, just over two-and-half hours, with sensitive cuts and an unerring eye on keeping the action moving.

The production is a model of clear-thinking. Benefitting most is James Garnon’s Claudius, whose delivery is remarkably fresh. A poor schemer (after all, most of his plots fail), he often seems confused and struggling with the situation – an interpretation that adds interest and tension. Garnon’s is an understated performance, a quality shared by Helen Schlesinger’s Gertrude – at first frosty, “when sorrows come”, she reacts magnificently.

It might be better if the admirable restraint was universal. Shubham Saraf’s Ophelia and Bettrys Jones’ Laertes both come across as hysterical in contrast; their roles are used as a foil to the royal family a little clumsily. And I suspect it will surprise no one that Pearce Quigley’s Rosencrantz is played for laughs: in this instance his comic talents are something of a shame. The accompanying Guildenstern (Nadia Nadarajah) uses sign language, which proves fascinating, and Quigley comes across as a distraction.

These are quibbles in what is a very fine production. Holmes, While and Terry carry clarity into the production’s argument. Of Hamlet’s actions and emotions, they would claim, “it is not madness” – a position adhered to with consistency and made convincing. Terry delivers the “wild and whirling words” with credible mania. And she can be scary – not just when she looks like a demented clown. But what happens if you don’t think Hamlet is mad? Taking him as “sweet and commendable”, Terry invests incredible emotion into his plight. The soliloquies are always intense, but Terry makes them more emotional than ever. Like the “sweet Prince”, I often had a tear in my eye, making this a Hamlet to remember.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 19 April 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Three Sisters” at the Almeida Theatre

Cordelia Lynn’s new version of Chekhov’s masterpiece is bold and fresh to the point of being revelatory. Lynn enforces the play’s bleakness, with plenty of espousals that life is pointless, yet presents us with a perky trio who are approachable, recognisable and funny. There’s no shying away from the fact that Chekhov’s heroines have an air of the elite; you might ask them to check their privilege. But Lynn makes the struggles of each – in love and work, with the health of all three suffering – relatable, thought-provoking and moving.

Taking the three iconic sisters way past stereotype is not an easy task. Lynn’s muscular dialogue is well served by three performers who are excellent; it’s pleasingly impossible to single out either Pearl Chanda, Patsy Ferran or Ria Zmitrowicz, who all work well together. It’s fantastic to see how funny each can be in each character’s own particular way. Note the difference with the role of their sister-in-law, vividly portrayed Lois Chamimba, which comes into focus wonderfully: she’s a character we laugh at rather than with. Lynn has done justice to the play’s male characters, too. Her version retains some dignity for Elliot Levey’s cuckolded teacher, has sympathy (more than I) for the sister’s brother that Freddie Meredith does well with and uses Alan Williams’ Doctor to further focus themes. The role of Irena’s suitor is the big surprise, though; the character’s optimism comes to the fore as a foil… for a while. It’s a bonanza for Shubham Saraf, who takes the part.

Shubham Saraf and Ria Zmitrowicz

With superb performances and an exciting text, reservations risk sounding trivial, as they become matters of taste rather than criticism. The usually excellent designer Hildegard Bechtler has left the show looking a touch too modish. While not specifically updated or relocated, these three sisters are out of time and place, no matter how often Moscow is mentioned so all the mismatched chairs and Anglepoise lamps, along with the final scene played on bare ground (a big effort for little result), make the aesthetic too contemporary. And might director Rebecca Frecknall’s work also be a touch heavy handed? It’s easy to see the temptation. Several scenes are “all a bit strange”, with moments of staccato delivery and portentousness. Maybe Lynn, like the character Masha, is impatient with the “talk talk talk” in the play – she brings out ideas with sometimes blunt directness. Perhaps Frecknall should have tried to inject more subtlety? Alternatively, she reflects Lynn’s forcefulness and does justice to her vision. It’s a fine line that makes for a pleasing debate.

Until 2 June 2019

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner