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Brendan Cowell and Colin Moody are the toxic heart and soul of Marion Potts’s remarkable production.

By Diana Simmonds

HamletHeightening the sense of dark foreboding is a streak of comedy wrought mainly by casting Tim Richard and Matthew Whittet as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Darren Weller as Osric. Their physical comedy and the laughter they evoke are relief valves in the building tension, but also make the danger of the situation palpable. Stefan Gregory's soundscape also adds an ominous filmic quality to the show as it proceeds towards the inevitable end. Less successful on opening night at least were the songs which open and then punctuate the action, composed and performed by Sarah Blasko. Her face mike and/or the sound balance muddied the lyrics and the one thing you need in Shakespeare is to hear the words.

Fiona Crombie's spacious, mainly empty setting is effectively abstract and an invitation to imagine. One wall is a creepily seeping, wuthering height of royal tombs. It is fronted by a narrow moat where hands are washed, hot and bothered faces sluiced, The Ghost walks and blessings from the dead sought. A freestanding spiral staircase doubles as battlements and also, when starkly lit by a spotlight, as a sculpture whose writhing shadow adds to the sense of unease.

That unease turns to the kind of edge-of-the-seat horror usually associated with cinema when Hamlet and Laertes begin their fencing match. Hamlet is carefree and joking with his dear friend, provoking him - through his refusal to take the contest seriously - to frustrated retaliation. In not treating the fight as a theatrical fencing exhibition but rather as a tussle between two young men of reasonable but not Olympic skill, the casual and almost accidental violence is all the more appalling. The same can be said for the various deaths: horrible in the absence of melodrama and their realism. It's an unusual mix and awfully powerful.

Marion Potts has scored a personal triumph with this production. It's clear, modern, relevant, compellingly dramatic, funny and finally, deeply moving. In assembling this cast and this creative team she took her courage in both hands and followed her instincts and convictions. The result is spectacular.

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