Review: Bold and energised Hamlet under Gothic arches

Revenge, betrayal and ghosts, all in a York church. What more could you want?
1 Aug 2013 @ 9.15 am
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Revenge, betrayal and ghosts, all in a York church. What more could you want?
Revenge, betrayal and ghosts, all in a York church. What more could you want?

Review: Hamlet by York Shakespeare Project
Venue: St Martin-cum-Gregory Church, Micklegate

York Shakespeare Project’s summer production of Hamlet has been getting people very excited, and with good reason. Approaching the final run of performances in the evocative setting of Mickelgate’s St. Martin-cum-Gregory Church, audiences have been hugely impressed by the talented and energetic cast in this fast-moving rendition of Shakespeare’s masterpiece of murder and revenge.

John Topping, director of his first YSP production, has done an admirable job in condensing the play into a more agreeable and bum-friendly two and a half hours. Despite the loss of around a third of the original text, the spirit of the work is still very much alive and does not disappoint, with the themes of revenge, betrayal and the human condition all being explored fully.

Topping’s decision to give the production a contemporary setting is likewise a wise and bold move, enabling the audience to focus purely on the genius of Shakespeare’s language, to which his choice of actors do great credit.

Peter Watts gives a highly impressive performance in the lead role. His sheer energy and willingness to experiment as an actor is evident from the start, with every word being treated with the respect it deserves.

Other than the moment he nearly took off my head with a sword (beware sitting in the front row) he gave a largely flawless performance that has quite rightly been attracting a great deal of attention and praise.

Special mention should also be made for Maurice Crichton as the scheming and ever so slightly slimy Claudius, as well as the extremely talented Katie Macintyre, whose fine singing voice and portrayal of the tragic Ophelia was the hot topic of conversation in a full and happy auditorium.

The church-cum-theatre plays a leading role, providing an appropriate backdrop for the dark events of the play. The great Gothic arches and huge, brooding wooden altar provide a certain menace that would surely be the envy of many a set designer.

It is a special but also challenging space for any actor: occasionally speeches were swallowed by the muffling rafters of the old church.

News that this successful production has been helping to breathe life back into this largely forgotten and too long neglected church will warm the hearts of many who have witnessed its sad decline over the years.

The work of the Stained Glass Centre, now based inside the church, has also played its part in its regeneration, and hopefully will attract more visitors through its doors in the near future.

Only a few performances of the production remain. So get yourself down to Micklegate and experience a classic play in an unforgettable setting.


  • Hamlet by York Shakespeare Project is at St Martin-cum-Gregory Church, Micklegate, until Saturday, August 3
  • Performances are at 7.30pm with a Saturday 2.30pm matinee
  • Tickets are £10-£12 from York Theatre Royal