Hamlet (Citizens, Glasgow)

This review was first published by TV Bomb on September 27th 2014

Before the curtain even rises – so to speak, as there is no curtain – it is plain to see that Dominic Hill is channeling his omnipresent signature style in the Citizens’ Theatre’s latest output, Hamlet. Indeed, as the production progresses, you start to feel as though you’re playing a game of Citz-Bingo; exposed back walls? Check. Cast wandering the stage before lights down? Check. Plinky plonky music produced by the ensemble using a wonderful collection of junkshop instruments? Check. For those who have seen Crime and Punishment or The Libertine this may feel like a return to familiar territory but don’t let looking for those little tropes distract you – this is a phenomenal production.

Brian Ferguson opens the titular role by literally hiding under the table, wandering a barren landscape of grief and distress for the loss of his father. His anguish soon turns into calculated, psychopathic, vengeful rage against his murderous uncle and untrustworthy mother, but it’s the lighter touches that Ferguson brings to the role that are most pleasing. There are elements of quirky, teenagery exuberance as he eats his cereal in his pants and forgoes personal hygiene. He channels Doctor Who-era David Tennant as he fizzles and crackles with an energy that, at the drop of a hat, goes to a very dark place indeed.

Ferguson is given further force by a simply superb cast. Cliff Burnett’s Polonius is calculating and slick, and at points where other actors may have strayed in to uncomfortable ‘over-acting’ territory, he deftly pulls it back with delicious moments of effete eccentricity. Adam Best is, as ever, supremely watchable, and Meghan Tyler’s gorgeous and damaged Ophelia throws herself around the stage with divine abandon.

This is an excellent production, no doubt. It deftly dodges the potential Shakespearean pitfall of losing the intrinsic beauty of the language in favour of snazzy staging; there is no stumbling or uncertainty at all, and the three and a bit hours seem to fly by. The set is beautiful and interesting and the music is a rich tapestry of Tom Waits-inspired organic sounds. It is altogether bold and confident and electric. But you may feel as though you have seen it before.

Refugee Boy (Citizens, Glasgow)

This post was first featured on TV Bomb on 15th March 2014.

When a poet decides to adapt a fellow wordsmith’s novel for the stage, there opens the possibility of creating a text that is too beautiful, too honed, too well refined. It must take true courage to even consider adapting a Benjamin Zephaniah novel for the stage; for one, Zephaniah’s voice is so singular and distinct, always managing to coax new emotions out of the vernacular. Lemn Sissay approaches this task with boldness and heart, and it pays great dividends in Gail McIntyre’s production.

Alem Kelo, a fourteen year old boy of mixed Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage, arrives in England with his father from his civil war ravaged homeland to enjoy “the best holiday of his life” – only to find himself abandoned and alone when his father decides it is safer for him to remain in London. What follows is his distressing, disjointed journey through the British care system, and his enduring desire to be released from its labyrinthine chaos.

This production is assured, confident, and compassionate. The central performance given by Fisayo Akinade is nothing short of exceptional; he is at once charismatic and endearing, beautifully portraying the difficulty in trying to keep hold of an identity when everything that makes you ‘you’ is so suddenly fractured. Alem struggles to remain a child to his absent parents, whilst at the same time becoming a young adult in the hands of the judicial system.

Gail McIntyre ensures that the tempo of the performance is absolutely in keeping with the pulse of the language; movement is constant, vital, exciting, and nerve-wracking. Touching too are the moments showing the fractious strain placed upon Alem’s host family, who struggle to bear the pain of loving and losing another foster son. Though the script is often warm and amusing, it does not give a neatly packaged, positive ending – rather, it is one of guttural hurt and loss. But as Alem’s father beautifully points out, it is essential to have darkness in order to see the stars.