Cast hams it up for the Bard’s lengthiest play

Harry Livingstone plays Hamlet at the Pendley Shakespeare Festival as he creeps up on his uncle Claudius, played by Douglas Dean in the foreground
Harry Livingstone plays Hamlet at the Pendley Shakespeare Festival as he creeps up on his uncle Claudius, played by Douglas Dean in the foreground

After the jokes and japes of last week’s offering with the Comedy of Errors, the mood at the Pendley Shakespeare Festival made the switch to melancholy in preparation for Prince Hamlet’s arrival.

This year’s 65th open air festival is all the more prominent as it marks a century since the birth of its founder, Dorian Williams and the annual two-week run finished up with what is perhaps one of the Bard’s best-known works.

True to form – as with many al-fresco productions in sunny England – rain made an appearance but luckily did not amount to anything more than a light drizzle, which just added atmosphere to the misery being played out on stage.

This version is scaled down into a snappy three-hour stint, which is probably just as well with onlookers perched on plastic seats.

The grounds of the Pendley Manor Hotel in Tring were transformed into Danish castle of Elsinore, where Harry Livingstone shines as the grief-stricken Prince of Denmark mourning the death of his father, the King.

Harry embraces Hamlet’s descent into madness with admirable fervour and his cries of despair as he drapes himself over his father’s coffin serves as a sharp reminder of everyone’s mortality – whether prince or pauper.

After the ghostly apparition of his father reveals the tale of his demise, Hamlet sets himself on a collision course to take revenge on the perpertrator – his uncle Claudius, who hastily married widow Queen Gertrude within a month of his brother’s death.

Livingstone’s intense stares and mad attacks of the giggles are mightily convincing, and one particularly amusing moment saw him mince across the lawn wearing a full face of make up and a strapless gown.

Perturbed by his increasingly erratic behaviour, Gertrude and Claudius implore Hamlet to lighten up.

But as many will already know, this doesn’t go down too well and causes him to lash out at his loved ones, terrifying sweet Ophelia and unsettling life-long friends Horatio, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

The upshot is, the play’s death toll is higher than most, with Polonius, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Hamlet himself biting the dust before the imaginary curtain comes down.

And when it did,the audience was sure of a performance of which Dorian would truly have been proud.