Guild Drama’s Pantomime Society have already given us the fairy tales we’re all too familiar with. Now their attention has turned to Shakespeare. Perhaps the production team made life hard for themselves by choosing to adapt a tragedy into pantomime, but this gave plenty of opportunity to ridicule and ‘ham-up’ one of the Bard’s most troubling plays. It is also highly likely that Hamlet has been staged more than any other Shakespeare work, so transforming it into a pantomime was novel but not a surprise.
In order to fall under the heading of ‘panto’, each character had to go beyond the role Shakespeare originally gave them. Rather than just being a friend to Hamlet, Horatio (Caitlin Steele) stepped up as ‘the comic’ archetype who greeted the audience each time she entered and directly addressed them most often. Dressed in a chequered shirt with baby pink braces and a bow tie of the same colour, Steele really put the audience at ease and found the right level of buffoonery to contrast with Hamlet’s (played by Amelia Simpson) brooding and indecisive character. I was glad that Simpson retained Hamlet’s psychological trauma in her performance, even if it didn’t have the same gravitas (which of course wasn’t needed) as other productions. She sat on the edge of the stage with a glum and perturbed facial expression and, rather than declaiming a long soliloquy, sang Oh Daddy by Fleetwood Mac. Shakespeare’s plot, rather than his language, is what drove the production forward.
Other characters really made the most of their panto archetype. Claudius (Martha Allen-Smith) was presented as a Machiavellian tyrant with a dark painted moustache, a long golden cloak, and a crown on her head. Whilst wickedly cruel and arrogant, her comic timing earned some of the biggest laughs of approval. This was especially the case when she wildly waved her arms as the lights snapped to a red wash, and she unravelled her plans to see off Hamlet’s challenge to her throne. This performance was well supported by Gertrude (Patrick Hannawin), fully-kitted in dame attire and make-up. We were not sure whether to side with this character, who, it could be said, commits adultery against King Hamlet by marrying his brother. Even though she ignored the audience’s claims that Claudius murdered the King (with the conventional line: ‘Oh no he didn’t’), we couldn’t help but warm to her playful charisma as she strolled through the audience and picked out certain members who she had her eye on.
Like previous shows, Hamlet was accompanied by a strong orchestra and other songs included If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher and This is Halloween (from The Nightmare Before Christmas). The latter of these was very fitting bearing in mind the Ghost of King Hamlet (Holly Watson) had such a presence throughout the performance. Like Horatio, she helped to guide the audience through the course of the narrative, which remained largely the same. There were several witty additions however, such as when the Ghost told us that Claudius tricked him into using poison as sun cream. As the production drew to a close, there was a well-choreographed sword-fighting sequence between Hamlet and Lea (a female reworking of Laertes, who was portrayed with cheek and confidence by Holly Brownbridge). Unlike almost all pantomimes, this one couldn’t seem to find a happy resolution. Nonetheless, the Cher number, performed by all members of the company, was a clever way of bringing the characters back to life after the sword duel ended in bloodshed.
A really innovative and thoughtful way of turning a popular play into a piece of family pantomime.