4/5 Stars

★★★★ Finding Comedy in Tragedy: Hamlet Part II

imageHamlet Part II is one of a trilogy of parodies by Perry Pontac called ‘Codpieces’. On the evidence of this evening’s offering, I will be eagerly seeking out the other two parts.

The opening funereal music is abruptly interrupted, as in a ‘problem’ play, by the arrival of a post-holiday Seltazar (Darren Ruston) back at court in sombrero and garish poncho, duty-free tequila under his arm. A courtier, he has been away from Elsinore for three years and is therefore unaware of the fates of Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia etc etc. Reciting the litany of woe that constitutes the tale of Hamlet, and killing off Fortinbras for good measure, is court librarian Fornia (Elena Clements) and together she and Seltazar discuss what is to be done.

Like Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the bare plot is tragic but the show itself is absolutely hilarious. This is not to say that it is hammed up in any way – the actors play it straight and with conviction – it is the audience’s knowledge of Shakespearean style and conventions that make it so funny. It is a tribute to the quality of Pontac’s affectionate parody that Shakespearean quotations are interwoven seamlessly into the text – there is fun to be had in spotting the sources and anticipating the jokes. It does help to have a passing familiarity with Shakespeare, but it is more a matter of the general style and the greatest hits than having to remember obscure vocabulary or plot details.

The arrival of the Fool highlights once again the problem of making Elizabethan clowning funny or even intelligible for a modern audience – while the point is made amusingly at first, in the end it went on too long, and we ended up as frustrated as one often is with Shakespearean fools. A rather thankless role energetically played by Nick Bright, who does have a very funny moment right at the end.

It would be invidious to give away too many details of the plot – the unfolding of how they get from the start to what becomes an inevitable end is an essential part of the pleasure of the evening. Suffice to say that Hamlet’s father (Brian Eastty) also makes an appearance and delivers a shocking revelation.

The show is reminiscent of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s condensation of the entire canon into a couple of hours and it is similarly careful not to outstay its welcome at a running time of around 45 minutes. In the congenial surroundings of The Hen and Chickens, it is a great way to beguile an hour.

Reviewed by Simon Ward.

The Camden Fringe plays at The Hen & Chickens, Islington until 21st August and performances begin at 7.30pm.

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