THEATRE / Hamlet - Lilian Baylis, London EC1

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The Independent Culture
Although it opened earlier, I doubt that this Hamlet will give Kenneth Branagh's RSC production much competition. That's not a fair comparison, but Compass Theatre's small-scale, touring Danemobile falls into every trap inherent in the allure of this most tempting play. Throughout, posturing is substituted for passion and effect for clarity: each speech is played in isolation, according to received notions of a scene's significance, with no narrative or emotional coherence.

The text is perversely nipped, tucked and reshuffled so that the three big soliloquies shunt into each other like cars in a motorway pile-up. As Hamlet, Paul Rider is effective when behaving like a disreputable, shabby clown, but is elsewhere too fond of grandstanding for the crowd, apparently encouraged by the director, Neil Sissons. As Uncle Claudius, Nick Chadwin is decidedly avuncular, which seems to miss the point.

But just as you've reconciled yourself to a Hamlet of routine mediocrity, the production becomes seriously bad. And the problem does not only reside in Polonius, blinking like an imbecile, or the oafish Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or the incoherent, infantile Ophelia, who would surely not be let near a river without her water-wings. The production's shoddy heart gives out somewhere between the a cappella rap that precedes the mangled Act 5 and the limp souffle of a duel that ends it. One can only shiver at what the GCSE students forced to watch this will think of it. Come back Mel Gibson.

Continues in rep to 19 Dec (071-837 4104).