Hamlet (An Experience) is marked by a great concept from director Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir and terrific acting from Emily Carding – but the participatory element, in practice, takes away from being able to truly appreciate the performance rather than elevate it.
To bring a piece to the Fringe where the audience get to participate not by just answering questions or following simple stage directions, but by playing a dramatic character themselves, is a brilliant idea. And to give them a chance to ‘act’ in Hamlet, opposite the talented Emily Carding, is even better. With that bold premise, Hamlet (An Experience) has much potential; I expected it to be a true experience, as the title suggests.
Sigfusdottir’s production starts with much promise. Using Novotel as a venue is a smart choice: walking into a big luxury hotel only to then be led into a small dark room is a very nice intro to Danish Royal Family tragedy. The show takes place in what looks like an improvised black-box rehearsal space with black cloth on the walls and mundane/DIY props, thus both capturing the darkness of Hamlet’s mind and the “workshop” sentiment.
The hour that follows, unfortunately, is marked by each of the selected participants – I was playing Gertrude – looking at their short script, preparing for their two lines and a couple of actions. Although the instructions are clear and lines/directions simple enough, never seeing this specific production before results in an unavoidable nervousness regarding everyone catching their cues (especially when they spread along a number of scenes). This, for me as a participant, took away from enjoying (and properly ‘experiencing’) Emily Carding’s performance as Hamlet, which was only inches away from the audience. So, even though the performance is bold in its participatory element and features terrific acting by Carding – the overall ‘experience’ is somewhat lacking.
This is a project that could easily be a 5-star experience, had only the concept been organised in a way that ensures participants are confident in their roles and able to enjoy both acting, and the rest of the show playing out in front of them, in such an unusual and exciting proximity. In this attempt, Hamlet (An Experience) does not quite put people at ease enough to appreciate the true power of Shakespeare’s text, Carding’s performance and the significance of this participatory interpretation.