Review – Hamlet at Riverside Studios

A review of Hamlet in bland verse.

Photo by Adam Trigg

Photo by Adam Trigg

Act 2, Scene 2 “Denmark’s a prison,” says

The Prince of Denmark, so the director

Of this production, Hiraeth’s Zoe Ford

Has set it in HMP Liverpool.


A short young man with slicked-back yellow hair

Is led onstage in handcuffs and then stripped.

Two men in suits shine lights in every hole,

Then issue him with grey/blue prisonwear.


No one is speaking as this all takes place.

This isn’t Shakespeare as we would expect.

No distant Danish kingdom, but instead

It’s Liverpool and now; it’s blunt and rough.


Then Hamlet starts, “Who’s there?” “Nay, answer me”

And Shakespeare’s language kicks in. I don’t know

Whether this is to be (or not to be)

Another thoughtless update – different place

And different time but all else is the same.

Act 1 allayed these fears. From Shakespeare’s text

Are found some nifty meanings that match well

The prison context, for example: “There,

A blessing with thee” as Polonius

Pulls out a wad of cash to give his son.

And what were mourning clothes, “trappings

And suits of woe”, are now prison attire.

“I have of late but wherefore I know not”

Is spoken in a therapy session

Led by Ophelia (Jessica White

Who plays the part with tenderness and ease).


The prison cell accentuates the fact

That Hamlet is an introspective man:

And now physically he is confined

As well as spiritually, so the long

Reflective monologues work well –

Since he has nothing else to do inside.


The second act shows off some fierce and raw

Fight scenes, and actors smeared with sticky blood.


The Prince is played by Adam Lawrence, who

Slides gently into madness through the show.

At times he bellows, blazing with real fire.

But, matched against the fearsome Guildenstern

And others in the cast there’s something weak,

Or gentle, or amiss in this sweet prince.

He’s piteous, yes (and that’s as it should be)

But frightening? Only intermittently.


My one big gripe is how the language jars

With lines that have been improvised to fill

The gaps between the speeches. For example,

Claudius allows Laertes’ trip to France:

“Take thy leave. [short pause] No worries son.”


But other updates and additions work,

Like Hamlet’s first night in his cell. Pitch black,

The other inmates flick their lighters on

And off, there’s ghoulish breathing all around

And childlike whimpers. Hamlet’s troubled mind

Is inside out, externalised for us,

His mental turmoil vividly laid bare.


The play has relevance and resonance

That this production emphasises well.

It seems Chris Grayling’s on a strange crusade

To singlehandedly, misguidedly

Diminish literacy in UK prisons

By banning books from being sent to inmates.

Hiraeth has hit upon an irony

As bitter as it is ridiculous:

By setting what may be the world’s most well-

Known play inside a prison they invert

The Grayling dictat. Kind of goes to show:

You can take the books out of a prison,

But you can’t take prisons out of books.


“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell

And count myself the king of infinite space.”

This line of Hamlet’s sums up this production.

The Prince, though bounded in a prison cell,

Must try to rule the boundless infinite

Of his disturbed and melancholy mind.


Timothy Bano


Photo by Adam Trigg

Photo by Adam Trigg


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