Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Secret Hamlet

An invitation to see a ‘secret Hamlet’ at a local pub on a soggy September Tuesday has forced me to break my boycott of Nambucca on the Holloway Road. Actually, it’s not so much a boycott as an old-man’s grumble about the fact that the owners dumped a perfectly adequate historic pub name (the Cock Tavern) a little while back and replaced it with one of those empty adworld assemblages that will last for about as long as it takes to change the labels on the latest sports drink.

There’s still a big stucco cock looking down from the eaves of the pub, whose original name can be found on maps going back to when (cue faux olde englishe rural accent) it were all fields about ’ere and the ’Ollow Way were just a muddy track frequented by the Dicks Whittington and Turpin. If the Nambucca owners hadn’t been so keen to wipe their own history, it could have featured in the first act of last night’s performance, a site-specific production requiring audience members to bring all the props – ‘the weirder the better’.

The morning cock crew loud,
And at the sound it [Hamlet’s father’s ghost] shrunk in haste away,
And vanished from our sight

The ghost in the Nambucca Hamlet was a pub drunk, who wandered in, pint in hand, eyes wide as though on Es, to a pumping beat from the in-house sound system. (Nambucca is a live music venue, like the Cock before it, though I doubt that Shane McGowan includes it on his crawls as he once did when it was a leading Irish dive.) All very apposite, since the production company is called The Factory and some of the scenes bore more than a passing resemblance to the sort of thing you’d expect from Factory Records and Madchester a couple of decades ago.

The regular cast of the secret Hamlet consists of about 30 people who can all play a variety of parts. Who gets to play what is decided at the outset by members of the audience, in this case playing rounds of ‘paper, scissors, stone’. It’s been running every Sunday for a year at different ‘secret’ venues (those in the know get emailed a few days beforehand); this was the first time in a pub.

As well as being encouraged to bring a prop to the party, audience members can also get roped into the proceedings. (You have to leave your stage fright at home on these occasions, so it helps that it was held in a pub.) I took a two-feet high Aunt Lucy, her identity concealed behind a highwayman’s mask and a pair of Guinness glasses – observant readers will spot the significance – but she hid in a corner for most of the night, and neither she nor I got picked.

This was something of a relief because part of the production involved the director setting the actors different challenges for each act of the play. For Act Three they each had to choose a confidant, or collaborator more like, from the audience. The results included Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy being spoken by a woman who had the words whispered into her ear by the actor playing his part, and Ophelia’s developing breakdown being expressed through the medium of a glove puppet.

This sounds crass, but was actually both funny and inspired. Don’t think you can do this at home, though, kids. It worked because the Factory ensemble comprises immensely able, talented people who are not only very good at improvised theatre but know all the nuances of their Shakespeare. The fact that the director, Tim Carroll, has six years directing Shakespeare at the Globe under his belt, as well as the current RSC production of The Merchant of Venice, is not incidental.


Anonymous said...

In response to the negative statement about Nambucca,
I thought it quite appropriate to point out the fact that Nambucca was recently (May 2008) voted:
'UK Independent Music Awards 2008'
Pub Venue of the Year!!!!!!!!!!

Steve Platt said...

I did say it was an old-man grumble about the name change ... Just don't start me on the Nag's Head, Holloway

jane pritchard said...

Aunt Lucy? Isnt she an illegal immigrant?