Arts: When time is out of joint

Theatre: HAMLET; OLD VIC, BRISTOL
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The Independent Culture
THE CORPSE-COUNT in Gemma Bodinetz's new production of Hamlet is suddenly reduced by a striking twist at the end. When the soldiers drag the dead hero to his feet, he comes to life as a ghost and remains behind to greet the approving spirit of his father, who has rematerialised right at the back of the deep stage.

As young Hamlet walks towards him, a receding series of proscenium arch frames float into the air and vanish. It looks like a relieved goodbye to theatricality, to all the sordid play-acting necessary to secure this pure moment of union. The sequence is certainly memorable, but is it true to the play? I think not. Hamlet may start off as a revenge play, but it evolves into a profound and self-conscious questioning of all action. Like the Oresteia, it develops beyond its apparent initial impulses.

To invent a final meeting between father and son, and to make it the climaxof the drama,, misleadingly keeps revenge as the top priority. If you're determined to bring old Hamlet's ghost on at the end, a better way might be to demonstrate his distraught exclusion from a drama that has now outgrown him.

Colin Tierney, who makes a powerful Hamlet here, previously worked with Bodinetz on Jonathan Harvey's Guiding Star, where he played a man whose life started to unravel after the Hillsborough disaster. You can see why this director wanted him for Shakespeare's great Dane. Stroppy yet sensitive, and possessed of a dangerous wit, Tierney is nature's perfect casting for Jimmy Porter in Look Back In Anger, a role which would be pretty good audition material for that of Hamlet.

Tierney's temperament produces some excellent moments. When the court is assembled to watch "The Murder of Gonzago", his Hamlet is entirely unable to contain his glee at the trap he is about to spring, and giggles with the wild, giveaway delight of an unnervingly precocious child. Throu- ghout, there's a serrated edge to the antic levity.

The performance makes few concessions, though, to the fact that Bodinetz - elaborating on the idea that the time is "out of joint" - has set the production in 1913.

On a revolving stage, Elsinore emerges as a succ- ession of stiflingly panelled chambers with desks, green lampshades and wind-up gramophones. Looking like George Bernard Shaw lect- uring some abashed youth on the virtues of vegetarianism, Jerome Willis's ghost even leads Hamlet from the battlements into one of these rooms for his revelations.

The Edwardian period and its protocol were recently used with great psychological pointednesseffect in the RSC's A Winter's Tale, where the entourage of bewhiskered flunkies surrounding the madly jealous monarch seemed like a corrupting barrier between him and reality.

While it creates a potent ghost-story atmosphere, the Edwardianism of this staging does not have an equivalently compelling rationale.

In addition to Colin Tierney's prince, the production boasts some other acute performances. Julie Legrand's eye-catchingly elegant Gert-rude, in particular, sympathetically shows a woman riven between erotic infatuation with her new husband and bewildered, guilty loyalty to her son, while Adrian Irvine's Horatio is a subtle study of sweet-natured supportiveness. Flawed, but well worth seeing.

Paul Taylor

Continues until 27 November, 0117-987 7877

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