The rest is silence, Brighton Festival

4.00

 

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? But for a rain-battered Brighton Festival banner on the gate you'd never guess that the nondescript lock-up on a industrial estate in Shoreham-by-Sea was playing host to one of the most eagerly anticipated theatre events of the year.

dreamthinkspeak, whose last show - a Cherry Orchard in a defunct department store - became the biggest seller in Brighton Festival's history, has taken over two warehouses for its new show, a visually striking, modernist take on Hamlet.

The first houses the box office and a makeshift, candlelit bar. Across the carpark another, larger warehouse acts as the theatre. Once inside a disorientating black corridor leads to a large dark room, whose walls are covered in what appear to be mirrors.

The audience stands in the middle, like futuristic groundlings (the 90-minute show is standing throughout). As the strip lights go up, the mirrors become windows, through which the audience is invited to spy and eavesdrop on the ins and outs of a court that is rotten to its core.

The sets are modern and brutally minimalist - zinc surfaces, Apple Macs and sinister white Venetian blinds. Each room leads to the next in one long, snaking corridor of power.

Behind Elsinore's closed doors - and there are a lot of doors - Claudius wakes from a nightmare, Gertrude gets drunk, Ophelia daydreams of love, Hamlet toys with a gun...

While it lacks the wonder of his Chekhov promenade piece, Tristan Sharps' slick 360-degree production superbly conjures up a state steeped in paranoia. Everyone is watching and being watched, listening in and being overheard, plotting and plotted against. The audience sees and hears everything too, in slightly muffled form, as though through a wire tap or a wine glass pressed up against a wall.

This is Hamlet in widescreen and surround sound, with Tarantino-style jump-cuts and scenes played out from multiple perspectives. Projections take us deeper into the twisted dreams of Claudius and Hamlet and down into Ophelia's watery grave. There are disconcerting moments when we feel ourselves not just inside the court, but inside the head of the Prince himself.

Shakespeare's text has been chopped and chopped about and inevitably, with a cast of nine, there are some gaping holes. It's a brave move to decentralise Hamlet but one, I think, which robs the final bloody tragedy of its power. A bold and bracing take nevertheless, whose creepy atmosphere lingers long in the mind.

Touring to Riverside Studios as part of LIFT, 12-23 June; and Newcastle Playhouse, 26-30 June (www.dreamthinkspeak.com)(www.brightonfestival.org)

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