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BWW Review: HAMLET IN THE OTHER ROOM at Rumpus, 100 Sixth Street, Bowden


A play about a play, perhaps.

BWW Review: HAMLET IN THE OTHER ROOM at Rumpus, 100 Sixth Street, Bowden Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 4th December 2021.

Let me say that I frequently see Rumpus Productions twice in the run. The commitment to new writing and emerging companies brings Good Company Theatre and their self-devised Hamlet in the Other Room to two spaces under the one roof.

Now, plays commenting on other plays aren't exactly new, if you consider Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Alan Ayckbourn has cornered the market in plays that jigsawed together, but this is something entirely of its own. Self-devised by the company, it is engrossing, entertaining, and immersive. It is so structured that every audience member is effectively at a different show, putting their own experience together.

The premise is that this is the last night of a five-month project, a presentation of Hamlet, with an all-female company, and all the roles played as women by women. In the dressing room, a conversation starts about the theatre tradition of jokes inserted into the play as an act of celebration. There is, however, a counter-theme that something should happen to subvert the patriarchal mandate of the play. All this while, in the other room, a performance of Hamlet is taking place. Actors sweep in and out, changing costumes. Audience members also move between the two rooms.

On a tip from a mate who had seen the preview, I started in the dressing room, an untidy space, couches, make-up mirrors, where actors sweep in and drop their roles, or assume their costumes and head out through the curtain on to the stage. There's a video feed. The actors of Good Company become the actors of the unnamed Hamlet company, but their actions and dialogue are so smoothly developed. Of course, the play was devised by them, and so much of what is heard has that original authority.

Backwards and forwards we go, at will, or the prompting of a remark. I was in the dressing room when "To be or not to be" became a chant for multiple voices, but the last fifteen minutes of the performance has us all in the Hamlet auditorium. This is where things get really strange. There were moments in the dressing room, where the conversation turned to vibrations, and at least one actor was struck by strange internal pains and cramps. Something eldritch was in the air.

Hamlet ends, bloodily as it does, and the cast, all nine women, file off the stage to line the auditorium, beginning a high, wordless song. Then the story is told which seems to be the great devouring mother eating a boy-child. If you want to destroy the patriarchy, get men young.

Zola Allen is the director, Lucy Haas-Hennessy and Poppy Mee are credited with the script, and Mee and Kidaan Zelleke are the producers. They are joined on stage by Chloe Willis, Ellen Graham, Ellen Perry, Evie Leonard, Katherine Sortini, and Mikayla Rudd.

I'm going again. If I speak of the Marx Brothers, it is because they were consummate actors of chaos, of whom it was once said that, in A Night at the Opera, they did to Il Trovatore everything that ought to be done to Il Trovatore. While Shakespeare's head is bloody, but unbowed, Good Company have done something splendid, intriguing, and confusing in the best way, the way that totally upsets your views and makes you think again. More, please.

Photography, Jamie Hornsby.

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