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Review: Hamlet, Pocket Oxford Theatre Company

Reviewed by LARA CLIFTON

Photo: John Lee Bird

Those of you who know (Mr) Teds Walker as a maverick stalwart of the London cabaret scene might be surprised to learn that he has spent much of the last few years working in theatres and schools across Spain, Portugal and France building an enviable reputation as a writer/performer with his in-demand Pocket Oxford Theatre Company. Walker devises high octane, pop culture re-imaginings of Shakespeare’s greatest hits intended to give kids (and those adults who never quite got it the first time round) an accessible introduction to them without patronising. It’s no mean feat - and the fact that this is the 7th adaption Pocket Oxford has done should tell you something about how good he’s got at it.

The Pocket Oxford was back at The Brighton Fringe Festival last week, debuting their Hamlet for 4 sold-out performances at The Otherplace following a hugely popular run of Romeo & Juliet at the smaller Marlborough Theatre during last year’s festival. ‘Family entertainment’ is a description that usually sends anyone with a double digit IQ searching frantically for the nearest chair & noose, but that’s because most family entertainment is a country mile behind what Pocket Oxford delivers.

Walker, who plays Shakespeare as a vainglorious berk and Hamlet as a sulky teenage Kathy Burke, has an instinct for finding the perfect balance between a faithfully abridged Shakespearean narrative, sharp cultural references and an anarchic energy that has the whole audience rocking with laughter. He also has an instinct for putting a great team together, with Jonathan Richardson playing pretty much everyone else (and a horse, with this production correcting Shakespeare’s mistake of not giving the horse enough dialogue). Richardson has a deft comic touch and he & Walker are engaging, sparring partners on stage. Long-time collaborator Lisa Lee directs the pair with a subtle steel that perfectly sets the pace & tone, keeps the momentum even and maintains an air of unpredictability that still feels organic.

As with all Pocket Oxford productions, the kids form a large part of that unpredictability, and six of them were chosen from the dozens of enthusiastic volunteers to play all of the remaining characters in each scene. The kids are briefed and costumed during each scene, and these were some of the funniest moments on offer anywhere at the festival.

The set and props are a blast, bringing charm and invention to the awkward necessity of conjuring two ships and a sea from behind a curtain, and there’s a horse and carriage scene which had the audience actually cheering the carriage.

If you didn’t get to see this show in Brighton then you’ve still got a chance to book tickets for a 'Double Will' (Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet at London’s 20th Century Theatre on Sunday 12th July). Take your kids or borrow someone else’s...just don’t miss it!

Pocket Oxford Theatre Company present A Double Will: Romeo & Juliet (2pm) and Hamlet (5pm)

12 July

20th Century Theatre (W9 3BD)