The Garden Suburb Theatre (GST) is a friendly and welcoming amateur theatre company.

We are a registered charity promoting involvement in the Dramatic Arts in North London. We welcome anyone who wishes to learn more about drama, either by participating in or coming to watch one of our diverse programme of shows.

Review

Unlike the towns and cities beyond the capital, London doesn't afford much in the way of an amateur theatre scene, given the huge concentration of professional shows available. However, that does not mean that people in other professions who have a passion for theatre are excluded. Up steps the Bridewell Theatre: home to many an amateur group and right now, host to GST as they present Shakespeare's Hamlet.

From the outset, it's clear that director Nick Hastings has something to say about a man lost at sea. Taking our seats, we see a dumb-show of Hamlet (Steven Maddocks) aboard the ship-like set playing chess against his father before being left alone to finish the final king-killing move. There is both jubilation at the short-term gain, followed by deep despair at the enormity of the loss, a theme that reappears throughout.

The spirit of Hamlet's father appears in the guise of four cloaked and masked figures who, with ghostly breathing and unified speech, make a formidable apparition. Underscored by some stormy-weather sound effects and suitably low lighting, it allows the audience to appreciate Hamlet's fear.

Such dramatic scenes are nicely balanced by those of the court, where we meet the demure Gertrude (Miriam Hoenig) and the haughty Claudius (Jon Musker). Musker is a strong presence on stage and reminiscent of a broader Tim McInnery as the smug king. Hoenig does well to keep her regal place until she unravels in a touching moment when Gertrude shares an understanding look with Ophelia (Emma Jane Sullivan), who is then dragged into the water by beckoning spirits.

Being an amateur company, there are some performances which lack confidence but, in all fairness to the company, every role was carried out with conviction. Edward Smith, as a commendable Horatio, could afford to relax into the role, with a little less reactional gesturing and expression. Some of the younger characters are played by older actors and whilst this can be overlooked to a degree, the casting of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern doesn't quite fit the bill being as they are "of so young days brought up with" Hamlet. For the older characters, however, there are great moments of comic timing. Ian Grant excels as Polonius, the bumbling old man desperate to interpret a relationship between the young prince and his daughter. The performers are clearly comfortable with the comedic aspects. Frank Turnbull and Mark Overall bring the gravediggers' scene to life (there's a pun there somewhere) whilst nicely setting up the following burial scene with a few handfuls of dry ice.

There is some good work from the central performers. Sullivan creates an Ophelia that is pushed from pillar to post by suitor and father alike and, with some nice costume design, leads us through her mental decline. Despite a raspy voice, Maddocks annunciates clearly and demonstrates a good knowledge of his words though should heed his own advice in speaking lines "trippingly on the tongue" or having "a fellow whipped for o'erdoing" a role. There are times when all of the performers stray into "overplaying" territory and, as spacious as the Bridewell is, there is still plenty of scope to explore subtleties. The space includes a balcony which is made full use of to give considerable visual depth, and works particularly well with the ghost scenes.

The set itself is an incredible achievement and is one place where a well-funded amateur company such as this has advantage over the on-a-shoestring-budget semi-professional/fringe theatre productions. David Rance and Jo Eggleton-Rance have created a ship-like platform of sails and timbers, which doubles for the court throne room as well as opening a section for the gravediggers.

The production is, as you would expect with Hamlet, not over in the blink of an eye. I did feel that it could have been tightened up a bit. Although Hastings included Claudius' often-cut confession scene (strongly performed by Musker), I had little issue with his version, but would instead like more pace within some of the scenes. This could be helped by varying the emotional level more during the soliloquies and exploring some less obvious choices for the characters. Overall, there are some wonderful moments and the final showdown impresses with a dangerous-looking sword-fight between Hamlet and the aggrieved Laertes (adeptly played by Shane Sweeney).

As an amateur production, this does have its limits - but with those in mind, the company thoroughly deserved the warm reception it received from the audience.

Review by Tom Oakley

This is a review of Hamlet

The original review is here: One Stop Arts