CUPPERS: Dogg's Hamlet (Brasenose)

Tue 8th November 2011


Gavin Elias

at 14:54 on 9th Nov 2011



Encountering a play with a name like 'Dogg’s Hamlet', I was sure from the outset that I’d be in for something unusual and crazy. And I was right, but not necessarily in the way I expected. Directed by James Fennemore in conjunction with assistant director Chase Atherton, the play was penned by the innovative playwright Tom Stoppard and bears all the meta-theatrical and linguistic hallmarks of his works. More importantly though, Brasenose’s interpretation is a joy to behold – zany, well executed and boasting enough spunk to knock out an elephant, this is one Cuppers production to watch.

Framed as a production of 'Hamlet' by school children who speak only a bizarre nonsense language (apparently called Dogg), the piece quickly unfolds as that old chestnut of a play-within-a-play, giving us just enough time with the unintelligible interlocutors to establish ourselves before launching into a breakneck, riotously abridged version of the Bard’s famous work. The genius of the premise (and one that is perfectly conveyed by the Brasenose performance) becomes apparent as we begin to witness Shakespeare’s timeless soliloquies and exchanges being delivered by people who have no idea what their words mean, but who nonetheless deliver surprisingly impassioned – if odd – performances.

Proficient acting is of course essential to the success of this conceit. Happily, such concerns are not at all a problem here. Despite boasting a fairly large cast, the play has almost no weak links, but certainly a number of impressive turns. Abi Pipkin, Josie Mitchell, and Tanya Lacey-Solymar in particular stand out for their entertaining turns as the initially encountered school children, with each deftly handling gibberish-infused conversations by means of exuberant body language and intonation. Indeed, it is amusing to see the three of them take on classic supporting roles within 'Hamlet' once the production gets underway, as each accomplishes the demanding (and intellectually dizzying) task of acting as an actor acting. The most compelling performance of the night, though, is undoubtedly delivered by Alice Evans in the prestige-laden role of the equivocal avenger. Infusing her lines with convincing pathos and an interesting mixture of uncertainty and steely determination, she comes across as a surprisingly excellent Hamlet, even in circumstances that trade the traditional angst for explorative humour.

The direction is also crisp and effective, with swift cues and transitions emphasising the comical timing and implications of Hamlet’s extensively edited form. The blocking and movement also maintains this frenzied pace, and is dramatic enough to allow for key moments from the tragedy to be replicated recognisably even in their abridged state, while maintaining the (deliberately) unpolished feel of a school-level production. Moreover, the minimalist set (consisting of a set of blocks spelling out the words ‘Dogg’s Hamlet’) works well on a rather symbolic level, suggesting the conceptual disconnect between the onstage performers and their oddly emotive words.

In all, 'Dogg’s Hamlet' is a tremendous success, one that capitalises on a cadre of wonderful performers and demonstrates the very real rewards that groups can reap from being audacious enough to tackle plays as difficult and off-kilter as this. For in its amusing dissection of a classic Shakespearian masterpiece, Brasenose’s production certainly unearths more than a modicum of greatness itself. The play’s the thing indeed.


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