Review: The Rest Is Silence, Dreamsthinkspeak

Dreamthinkspeak, the immersive and installation-based theatre makers under the direction of Tristan Sharpe, present a stripped and reconfigured version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in The Rest Is Silence, as part of London International Festival of Theatre and The World Shakespeare Festival. In the words of Sharpe, the the production’s “structural forms are collapsed and reconfigured, divisions between scenes are dissolved; speeches are deconstructed and reassembled. Time itself is skewed, stretched or suddenly truncated.” Quite an undertaking with such a text, but of course Sharpe is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to play with the text in this manner. The Rest Is Silence condenses Shakespeare’s text to 90 minutes, interspersed with projections and cinematic qualities. Has  Sharpe managed to retain the same qualities of madness, revenge, death and despair that ooze from the original? I’m not so sure.

The audience in dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest Is Silence are invited into one of the Riverside Studio’s performance spaces via an outside entrance. Ushered into a large but enclosed space, the feeling of claustrophobia begins to seep in as we wait. The action takes places around us through paneled windows, and we become the voyeurs to the rotten state of Denmark. The large perspex windows contain luxurious rooms, each a character’s dwelling space, be it bedroom, office or side room. One wall is made up entirely of a large neutral living space that acts as the corridor, or a court room, or, in the later parts of the show, as the place of the duel. Designed by Robin Don and Sharpe, the feeling of wealth and luxury is undeniable and there is  a certain pristine clinical quality. The company moves around the rooms, and we are directed to various scenes at given times through lighting or projection.

Whilst the set-up is intriguing, there is also the question of what Sharpe’s enclosing of his audience actually achieves. There are some nice reveals and the projection work is at times quite fitting, a particular instance being Ophelia’s drowning as we are plunged underwater with her before she floats above our heads, but it never feels justified. Perhaps like the disseminating of the text itself, Sharpe wants us to feel fractured in our viewing, especially when scenes are overlaid on opposite sides of the enclosure. There are some interesting use of text dynamics which sees Hamlet’s “‘to be, or not to be” soliloquy read by all the characters who somehow or other find the text. These moments offer a glimpse into the process of chopping and reconfiguring, which ultimately help to generate a sense of madness within Hamlet’s character. The problems arise when, interesting as it may be, this dynamic doesn’t really offer anything new to the work of Shakespeare. A good concept executed without a hitch, but what is relayed to the audience isn’t a sense of freshness. It carries more weight, a certain bleakness, but I do miss the poetry that the full text contains.

There is a certain mixed reaction to the casting of The Rest Is Silence. Edward Hogg’s Hamlet is a rather bleak character, limp and lifeless (although this isn’t a bad thing given Sharpe’s direction of Hamlet as a pathetic character). Hogg’s portrayal is thrown up against the rather buoyant Bethan Cullinane as Ophelia who really didn’t capture the subtly of madness. A fair portrayal is given by Philip Edgerley (Claudius) and Ruth Lass (Gertrude) but it is Michael Bryher and Stewart Heffernan’s Roseencrantz and Guildenstern who offer the most satisfaction with their comical mannerisms.

In all, whilst attempting to challenge perspectives on Hamlet and break apart the text, I worry that dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest In Silence is too fractured to hold real strength. With characters’ conflicts shortened, scenes eradicated and the poetry stiffened, if it wasn’t for the playful design element watching the various rooms around you, this 90 minute production might be a little on the weak side. Strong concept, but poorly executed.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.