Gripping, dynamic and bang up to date, this is your chance to see a modern-day Hamlet.
It’s an age-old classic that’s been told a thousand times, but trust us when we say that you’ve never seen Hamlet like this before. With one change, Leeds Playhouse has turned convention on its head and opened up a world of possibilities, so you can see one of the greatest plays in the English language from a whole new perspective. Expect murder, revenge and betrayal in a fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Spoilers – Hamlet is a woman
In this modern-day retelling, Hamlet is a princess, not a prince, and she’s called back to the family home from university when her father is killed. But he didn’t just pass away, he was murdered by his own brother, so it’s little wonder that his ghost seeks out Hamlet to demand revenge. And thus begins a twisted tale of grief, anger and retribution.
In a way, it’s a simple switch – change the he’s to she’s and the script works just as well, but when a woman plays Hamlet, it changes our perceptions. Suddenly, the women’s voices come to the fore and you become more aware of the way they’re expected to behave. But Hamlet is no docile wallflower, she’s angry, she’s grieving and she’s not prepared to conform to the stereotypes.
It feels like a Scandi noir thriller
At its heart, Hamlet is a political thriller. The King of Denmark has been murdered, his brother has stolen the throne and Norway is set to invade any day – but even war is no match for family politics. Hamlet’s unrelenting desire for revenge brings death and destruction to all in her path, but her uncle Claudius is just as wily, and the body count is growing.
It’s gripping and fast-paced but surprisingly easy to follow
Hamlet is usually over four hours long, so it’s not surprising people think it’s hard-going, but Director Amy Leach has cut it down to just two and a half hours. It’s still Shakespeare’s words and it still tells the full story, but it moves at a much faster pace. In fact, the whole thing takes place over just 4 days, while Hamlet’s grief is still unbearably raw.
“So many people struggle with Shakespeare’s stories and language because they’re obviously 400 years old and quite dense. Also, a lot of us have had quite a bad experience of either boring productions or being forced to read it in school, so I always try to make Shakespeare accessible, and as exciting, dynamic and clear as possible,” Leach told us.
They’ve given Shakespeare a Northern twang
This may be a modern retelling of Hamlet, but they’ve stayed true to Shakespeare’s original script, albeit a shorter version. But what’s really cool here is that the entire story is told in a proper Northern accent.
“I think there’s something about hearing Shakespeare in a regional accent that gives it such punch and power, it actually makes it more understandable,” Leach told us. “And what’s interesting about Hamlet is that it’s full of things people say as part of their everyday speech, it’s absolutely chock-full of quotes that people don’t realise came from Hamlet.” To be or not to be, method in the madness, to thine own self be true – they all came from Shakespeare.
It’s different to everything that’s come before
The beauty of Hamlet is that it’s open to interpretation. You can rip it apart, you can change the order, you can set it in the modern day or keep it in the original world of the playwright, and that means every production is different. So even if you’ve seen Hamlet a hundred times before, you’ve never seen it like this.
“The more I work on Shakespeare, the more I see that he deals with the specific and the universal in such an extraordinary way. His stories and his language allow so many different interpretations, so many options and choices to be made that it allows each new generation to interpret it afresh, it’s really extraordinary,” Leach explained.
The love story isn’t the one you’d expect
In Shakespeare’s original, Ophelia is in love with Hamlet, but her father disapproves. In this new production, Leach has given the story new meaning because the lovers are both women. They wanted to explore what it is to be gay and heir to the throne, how people would react and what it would mean to the couple themselves. Now you can see that story unfold on stage.
There’s a big sword fight at the end
As we hurtle towards the dramatic climax, King Claudius, the man who murdered Hamlet’s father, catches onto her plot and decides to take action. He arranges a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes – she’s game, because fencing is her jam, but little does she know that his sword has been poisoned. One scratch will kill her.
Fencing isn’t usually blood-thirsty, but here it is. Tessa and Dan Parr (no relation) worked with super-talented fight director Kate Waters. She creates masterful battles that stay true to the characters, so it all feels incredibly real (and it all looks incredibly dangerous). They have to practice every day until it becomes second nature, which is why the end result will have you on the edge of your seat.
Getting the blood right is a precise art
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s goriest play. By the end of the show, nine people have died, so there’s blood and lots of it, but how do they do it? With blood bags of course. The rehearsals can get quite messy as they work out just how much blood they need, and every costume has to be washed straight after the show to remove all evidence of the play’s gory conclusion.
Hamlet isn’t all about Shakespeare
There’s so much more to Hamlet than just the words. The set is surprisingly simple, but it helps to tell the story, so even if you lose your way with the language, you’ll always know what’s going on.
You’ll be transported to Elsinore Castle in the midsts of a cold, blustery winter. In a country on the brink of war, harsh security lights illuminate the guards on the battlements, but even they’re no match for the spirit of a dead king, so expect ingenious lighting in a set that never fails to impress. As the story unfolds, you’ll weave your way from the chapel to the cliff edge, without ever leaving your seat, and that’s quite a feat.
Expect Scandinavian fashion at its best
Inside the tempestuous world of the royal family, where state funerals are quickly followed by sumptuous weddings, you’ll see a veritable catwalk of high-end fashion. Theatre Designer Hayley Grindle looked to Princess Mary and Prince Frederik of Denmark for inspiration, stalking their Instagram feeds to get a feel for the royal look. Her final designs are inspired by Danish fashion houses, so expect muted, minimalist outfits with real wow-factor.