By William Shakespeare. Directed by Conall Morrison. Featuring Patrick O’Kane, Mark Lambert, Eleanor Methven, Michael Harding, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Patrick Moy, Sean Kearns, Abigail McGibbon, Vincent Higgins, Ian McElhinney. The Peacock Theatre until 22 October.
Three televisions and a camcorder on the stage at the outset offer the first clue that this joint production between the Abbey Theatre and Belfast’s Lyric Theatre will offer a modern retelling of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
The 400-year-old story of Hamlet will be familiar to many. Hamlet (O'Kane) is the son of the King of Denmark, who is murdered before Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, (Lambert) marries the Queen, Gertrude (Methven).
This leaves Hamlet tortured, and everyone thinks what transpired has driven the prince mad.
Then Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father, Old Hamlet (McElhinney), who appears in this production on a television on the stage. Old Hamlet tells his son that his stepfather is the one who carried out the murder.
Hamlet feels no longer willing to trust anyone, and his speech in riddles and quizzical letters to his beloved Ophelia (Kiera Clarke) lead all to become convinced he has gone insane. The first of a considerable amount of simulated blood and gore is seen when Hamlet is portrayed cutting himself.
Then at Hamlet's suggestion, a troupe of travelling players performs a play for the royal court. Here, as elsewhere in the production, the story's sexual and violent moments are depicted unflinchingly.
During a fraught encounter with his mother, Hamlet is revisited by another vision of his father, this time inventively projected onto his chest. He then murders Ophelia’s father Polonius (Harding), mistaking him for the King.
Hamlet is banished to England soon afterwards, but his swift return comes too late to save Ophelia, who is driven insane by her father’s death at Hamlet's hand and drowns. Ophelia's final demented words in the preceding scene are somewhat confused, deliberately or otherwise, by the use of a vocoder and coloured projections.
It leads on to a final encounter that sees Claudius in league with Ophelia's brother, Laertes (Moy), to kill Hamlet. The use of projections on to the walls of the stage work most successfully here, depicted dripping in blood for the play's fatal conclusion.
Ultimately, the extensive use of modern technology is broadly successful in this production, and the abridged script succeeds in avoiding curtailing the story's dramatic core, that of the inner workings of Hamlet's mind.
However, the retention of Shakespearean language strikes a jarring chord when combined with mobile phones, DVDs, CCTV images and characters dressed in modern day clothes.
And while it may be thought heretical in theatre circles to rewrite Shakespeare, given the willingness to adapt set and stage and to abridge the original text, it seems strange that the language of the 16th/17th century cannot be, as it were, o'erthrown as well.