Winds of torment, winds of jest

Noel Tanti appreciated the Globe’s rough-and-tumble take on this otherwise brooding classic, performed at Argotti Gardens last Wednesday and Thursday.

The Globe’s annual Shakespeare production at Argotti Gardens is one event I truly look forward to, and probably the only thing for which I bless the summer months. The debilitating heat and stifling humidity are no friends of mine. Fortunately, Wednesday started off breezy, moving quickly to downright windy, which is not ideal for an outdoor performance but nevertheless a lot more agreeable than oppressive heat. Not only that, but the wind at times seemed to be in cahoots with the troupe, garbing scenes in turmoil and pathos as it galed and relented at the most opportune moments. Not that the actors needed meteorological assistance. The cast delivered in spades (and flying tennis rackets), all of them (except for Hamlet himself, Mr Joshua McGuire) interpreting several characters. Alex Warren (Laertes/Guildenstern) and Amanda Hadingue (Gertrude) were particularly good. But head and shoulders above the rest was John Bett as Polonius, a self-absorbed, odious, opportunistic rat of a character if ever there was one. He was devious and scheming, sometimes revelling in his nefariousness, sometimes masking it behind a thin veil of diplomacy. Mr Bett did not miss a beat, eating through comedy and drama as effortlessly as a mouse through cheddar cheese. Hamlet is a complex character to play, whoever you are. At times he comes across as petty, but by virtue of having his obsessions proven right, his existential angst assumes gargantuan proportions. It mustn’t have been easy for a small actor like McGuire to pull it off, but pull it off he did. At first he seemed a bit unsure of himself, but ten minutes into the play, he was jumping, grinning and despairing all over the place, his plight consuming everything in its path. The physicality of Mr McGuire’s performance was sheer joy to behold. I loved Dominic Dromgoole’s direction. I loved the verve with which he imbibed the production, having several ‘LOL’ moments in possibly one of the Bard’s most tormented plays, suggesting that the line demarcating comedy and tragedy is not that evident after all, and that one may well be the bastard sibling of the other. The staging was beautiful, never cluttered, even though at times there were several actors (and crew) in a relatively small space. And I loved the fact that a number of scenes had two actors facing each other, with a third flitting between them, to be or not to be. All in all, Hamlet felt decidedly informal, as though the players were performing in my own living room. There was little appetite for suspension of disbelief which is probably why I found it remarkably easy to suspend my disbelief. If the story is good and performed well, the rest simply follows. This might also be the reason why even the final, all-cast dance number, which looks so cheesy when done on film, worked brilliantly. I couldn’t have asked for a better reconciliation with the long, stifling summer months.