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by on 24 June 2021

Demonic Duets


by Nicholas Jonne Wilson

The Questors at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 26th June  

Review by Nick Swyft

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, but this version came in at under an hour.  Its purpose wasn’t to retell the story but rather to examine the psychology of the main protagonists, in what is described as “the extra-ordinary tale of Hamlet”.

Each of the main characters, Hamlet (Nathaniel Flynn-Murphy), Ophelia (Arabella Jacobson) and the Queen (Sara Mearza), were represented as both themselves and as their demons (Dumitru Cotelea, Isabella Cotrell and Alexandra Bivol respectively).

The play opens with Hamlet being taunted by images of Ophelia and her demon as he sleeps, but the true nature of these demons is revealed in the steamy sessions of the second scene.  Sex scenes on stage are always a draw, if sometimes awkward, but this one was pretty tame.  The costs of production couldn’t run to the hiring of that modern phenomenon of an intimacy coach, but the gist was clear enough – demons are not respectable creatures.

The famous ‘To be or not to be…’ soliloquy was done as a dialogue between Hamlet and one of the demons acting as a psychiatrist.  This was very entertaining, the cliché the speech has become being nicely offset by another cliché from the psychiatrist; ‘How does that make you feel?’

Perhaps the format was too short for the main elements of the plot to be effectively developed, and having most of the characters missing, it was hard for the play not to become confusing.  Nevertheless there were several entertaining highlights including a verbal duel between Ophelia and one of the demons, starting over a rivalry about herbs.  This quickly escalated to insults based on the names of these herbs, into which words such as ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ were incorporated.  Perhaps the writers of Viz might have learned something; everyone else did!  This verbal duel felt a little like a long entertaining Wimbledon tennis rally. 

The revelation to Hamlet of Ophelia’s death, at the end of the play, is a genuinely chilling moment, prosaically done, but this is a no spoiler zone.

It was good to see Questors and their actors, here drawn from Questors’ second year students, dusting themselves off and coming back to life.  Lockdown has not been easy and, although the audience wasn’t really big enough to give them the full reward they deserved, the cast did a good job with clear enthusiasm for a quirky play.

Nick Swyft, June 2021

Photography by Robert Vass

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