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Quietus (The Extra-Ordinary Tale of Hamlet)

by on 28 June 2021

Deliciously Terrible Anguish

Quietus (The Extra-Ordinary Tale of Hamlet)

by Nicholas Jonne Wilson

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

Review by Poppy Rose Jervis

 ‘We may all know the story of Hamlet: one of ghosts, deceit, oppressive families and revenge.  But this surreal re-imagining of Shakespeare’s most iconic work delves far deeper into the inner workings of a dream, stranger than life itself.  Immersing us in a new, spell-binding world … ‘

With a no-nonsense beginning this play magnetically places the audience with Hamlet sleeping on a simple white box board on the very edge of the stage and within seconds pulls us into his world as he is taunted by ‘Ophelia’.  The powerful angst-ridden start as he awakens and finds himself unable to make sense of things is not a melodramatic opening, but indicative of both his real struggle and the powerful performance from all cast that is to come. 

Two white box ‘uprights’ with a door space in between are all the production has by way of background set, and all that is needed for actors and audience to transcend time and place and travel in and out of the mind.

Prepare for witching time as Wilson’s skilful and thoughtful writing, imaginatively realised and carefully not using the ‘same old, same old’, makes clever use of the text of Hamlet to create the compelling, original script Quietus of around an hour’s production length.  Shakespeare was the first to use the term ‘quietus’, originating from ‘to quit’ (or quietus est: he is quit) as a metaphor for the termination of life. 

‘When he himself might his quietus make, With a bare bodkin?’ and Wilson’s work, (which is Hamlet but it is not ‘Hamlet’) takes four characters with their attendant spirits to intrude into the innermost mind with thoughts of death as a release from life, and with the torment and confusion of dreams crossing into physical existence, to question, ‘What is reality to a mind that is already broken?’

Brevity is the soul of wit (and the skill of a writer, director and designer) and in a shortish play we are not distracted by unwanted text, characters that would detract from purpose, props, set or other worldly insignificancies as minds are emptied to make them home for cast and demons at play. 

There are just two low white ‘platforms’ (including the bed) which marry visually with the uprights, efficient and unobtrusive when a change of situation is required, and which neatly provide a second level for choreographic use.

The choreography and movement are excellent in both conception and execution with just one example being a sex scene which is cleverly and clearly portrayed by an unselfconscious cast.  Throughout the production the ensemble is balletic and elegant, forceful and powerful.  Timing is excellent.  The drive is palpable with intense physicality as performers linger both out of reach and invade one another’s minds and stage space … in and out … feeding and starving … loving, hating … a continual poetic, tormenting dance.  The audience experiences a powerful and steadily consistent internal and external energy from the performers.

Throughout the play the use of voice stands out impressively as a true dramatic tool in tandem with exercising breath control and excellent projection during an energetic production.  The cast demonstrate a command of vocal and movement skills. 

We are privy to a duelling of words in which herb names are spat out as insults and obscenities, unnecessarily long, but performed well.  The exchange is an opportunity for interaction and is more than a battle of words, but nonetheless there is a feeling after the first few insults have been hurled that we have got the message: nothing wrong with the vocal expression and movement, but the whole is too prolonged.  Perhaps because both parties are uncoiling and fizzing with vitriol from the outset it doesn’t have far to go and less time is needed to build and crescendo.

Of the minimal props, there are pillows in the opening minutes but their contrasting softness is of little or no comfort, whether on which to lay a tormented head or clutch to a body, and they cannot reach a soul.  A holey umbrella and later, bodkin (of course), enhance.  Metal pails, floppy, clothed dolls and water give us an intriguing (and shocking) conceptual portrayal, and of equal visual and psychological effect, is the running use of colour; notably black, white and splashes of red, with all their connotations, and the eye being attracted, not distracted, by one predominantly green costume.  There are other nice touches for what would be traditional key moments but not to give too much away.

Wardrobe deserves a mention for the costumes which managed to capture the circumstances and traits of the wearer superbly.  Always a joy to see costumes that are chosen or made not just to ‘look good’ or impress but clearly add to the wearer’s embodiment of character.  Dresses moved wonderfully and we all love a good glove! 

The atmospheric lighting worked with the black and white pulling the whole together, with as you may expect, a large amount of darkness and light with the well-placed brightness on specific actors rather than continual changing background lighting (or that is how it appeared to audience benefit).  An unwanted distraction with a single, superfluous white box projection drew away eyes that wanted to remain on the cast and which were frustratingly not rewarded.  Well-chosen music completed an effective collaboration.   

Lover of the play Hamlet or not, familiar with Hamlet or not, this production is riveting and a silent audience were transfixed.   For anyone with an interest in Shakespeare, parallels with the Macbeths can be drawn and for those with other inclinations, we were not without the makings of an excellent Bellatrix Lestrange or two.  The cast list is helpful to get to grips with the fact that that each character has a demon self.   

Irritating though it may be when a preview pinches the descriptors a reviewer would like to use and steals all the good words, equally it is heartening to find one that accurately describes without being over flowery and is actually spot on,

‘Is this a dream now in the present or a scream from Hamlet’s soul for things that happened centuries ago? Mixing the modern with the gothic, the real with the surreal, this exciting and wickedly humorous extra-ordinary tale of Hamlet, our ensemble cast will take you on a heightened journey of isolation, betrayal, and paranoia.  As the lines between dream and reality become blurred, so do the characters ¬- many of whom have a duality to them, made physical by their own ‘dæmons’;

… almost as an out of body experience we are drawn into a nightmare that is fascinating to watch.   Wickedly humorous? – possibly not, but dangerously teasing as a deliciously terrible anguish plays flirting games with sanity, mortality and sexual desire.

Excellent delivery with impressive maturity of performance and show casing a number of skills in a tight, strong production.  There are no weak links and with the sympathetic directing doubt there would be a single seat with a restricted or disappointing view.   The fly in the ointment? – being run during plagued times and not getting the audience it deserves. 

If the production has served its purpose as a highly successful student end production, in which all should be congratulated – Nathaniel Flynn-Murphy, Hamlet, Dumitru Cotelea, Hamlet’s Demon, Arabella Jacobson, Ophelia, Isabella Cotrell, Ophelia’s Demon, Sara Mearza, The Queen and  Alexandra Bivo,The  Queen’s Demon, writer and director, Nicholas Jonne Wilson – this extra-ordinary tale of Hamlet, should be re-run in its own right.

Keep your eyes on this one and if it is run, grab a ticket, you won’t be disappointed

Poppy Rose Jervis, June 2021

Photography by Robert Vass

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  1. Quietus | Mark Aspen

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