JOYCE MCMILLAN on HAMLET at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 7.7.14.
3 stars ***
THANKS TO a more-than-awkward error in the season brochure – this shows starts at 7.30, not 8.00 as advertised – I can only bring you a review of four-fifths of this passionate new production of Hamlet, staged by Wilderness Of Tigers as part of the Bard In The Botanics season’s promotion of emerging talent. It’s good to report, though, that on a gorgeously sunlit evening after a day of rain, Alasdair Hunter’s young team of actors delivered a Hamlet to remember, brief, sharply-cut, and fairly conventional in style and costume, but tightly-focussed where it matters, and blessed with some fine leading performances.
Staged on a slope of rich woodland near the garden’s back gate, this Hamlet lacks any visual representation of Elsinore, but still captures a profound sense of light and shade, as actors run from the dark woodland to join the action, and move towards their fate in the gathering dusk. The play revolves around a thrilling central performance from Alan Mackenzie as Hamlet, athletic, youthful, intelligent, lyrical, yet mature enough to capture the tragedy of Hamlet’s destruction in his prime. And if the acting further down the cast is variable, Amy Conway makes a terrific Horatio, Jasmine Main a heartbreaking Ophelia, and Jason Vaughn a suitably sinister Claudius; in a production that, at all the key moments, simply grasps Shakespeare’s great text and lets it lead the actors into the heart of the drama, revelling in its rhythms, its strength, and its unforgettable imagery, which soars out on the evening air like a force of nature in its own right.