Presented by RUMPUS
Reviewed 1 December 2021
The immersive theatre experience is a tricky beast to get right, and the newly formed collective Good Company Theatre is here to have a red-hot go at it. There is the seed of a great idea and the first flashings of brilliance in this revised and abridged version of Hamlet which takes as its central conceit the “choose-your-own-adventure” narrative. In the main theatre, Hamlet is under-way, but the audience can choose to move to a second environment, the “Other (Dressing) Room”, where the actor’s slip into their off-stage personas and chew the fat—be that some light tarot card reading, spiritual possession, ideological spats, monologuing, or fourth-wall-breaking out-of-body experiences.
There is no surfeit of good and valid ideas in this immersive experience. Ripping open the Shakespeare play text and chucking out the things that no longer hold water—in this case, patriarchal norms and misogyny—is fertile ground for storytelling. Telling Hamlet with an all-female and non-binary cast is another; so is putting accessibility front-and-centre as a way to enjoy the performance. Good Company Theatre’s manifesto is definitely a marker of how independent theatre can be made.
In the pairing-off that takes place “behind the scenes” we get to see the real workings and back-and-forth that this creative team is obviously enthused by. Lucy Haas-Hennessy and Ellen Graham are clear stand-outs in the large cast, though the nature of the production meant I missed finding out which characters they were playing. Haas-Hennessy’s comic wit and ease is delightful to watch, while Graham is incredibly impressive with a physical and dedicated performance despite (what seemed) little stage-time.
Where immersive theatre can allow for an “anything can happen” approach—where the actors can interact with audience members, tell jokes, tell them off if they’re on their phone—this production unfortunately falls short. Hamlet in the Other Roomdoesn’t exactly suffer by telling two straight stories (that eventually become one) to two shifting audiences, but the actors often find themselves rigidly stuck in their self-made narrative.
There is little ease or flow to proceedings, which extends to the audience experience—you are told during housekeeping at the top of the show you can follow stories or actors through the show, but you quickly become lost if you’re not with one storyline from the very start, and actors disappear behind the “no audiences allowed” curtain to the next room. You as an audience member can only get up and walk down the corridor between the performances, but imagine if the actors were there too, running to their part in the play, tripping over you or asking how you think it’s going?
Ultimately what Hamlet in the Other Roomis most concerned with is its themes and ideas, which it approaches with caution before going full-pelt with (practically) an on-stage exorcism. There is good work, amazing talent and endless creativity in this ambitious production, that with a bit of time and finessing could become a truly brilliant theatre experience.
Review by Callum McLean
Venue: RUMPUS Theatre 100 Sixth Street Bowden
Season: Until 12 December 2021
Photo Credit: Jamie Hornsby