Forgive me, Manchester theatre world and community, for I have sinned.
Despite being a fairly frequent theatre-goer and the space being in operation since 2015, this week was the first time I entered the wonderful world that is Hope Mill Theatre.
Forgive me further, Girl Gang Manchester and Unseemly Women, if I take a moment to talk about the venue as well as the show which drew me there in the first place, Hamlet.
Like most fringe venues, Hope Mill is delightfully tucked away, leaving the visitor with a sense of discovery when rounding that corner to see the fairy light lit entrance, inviting you in to experience an evening (or indeed afternoon), of wonderful theatre.
The candle-lit bar with its glorious (yes, glorious) pizzas, acts as the perfect warm-up for the performances on offer as you step through the curtains and take your seat.
And so, my seat was taken for the all female Shakespeare production of Hamlet.
A quick summary of the long-told tale of tragedy as gifted to us by the Bard himself, Hamlet returns from University to Denmark, only to discover that not only is his father dead, but that his mother has now married his Uncle and is the new King.
I wondered how an all female cast would manifest itself – whether it would form a distraction, a detraction (either positively or negatively) from the performance – was it a novelty? Of course it wasn’t. It was a cast of actors who happen to be women…who also happen to be hugely talented and engaging.
In fact, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not about male vs female actors. It’s about removing ‘tradition’ and barriers. In this case, female characters written to accommodate male domination. Indeed, as the programme to the play lays bare – ‘themes of fragility and weakness run rampant’ (in Hamlet).
It’s a leveling up.
As often the case with fringe theatre, the set is simple, allowing the performances to play out in the spotlight, allowing no distractions or indeed back-ups to the acting.
Indeed, none needed.
In the title role, Eve Shotton, commands attention not only when the performance demands overt physicality, declaration and swagger, but in the sensitive moments and aspects of the play.
Hamlet would never have struck me as one of Shakespeare’s most comedic of texts, yet the humorous lines and situations were grasped firmly by the scruff of the neck by all involved.
With great timing and delivery, not to mention facial expressions (nothing can beat the intimacy of fringe theatre between cast and audience), this aspect of proceedings landed perfectly, providing much mirth and, dare I say it, laugh out loud moments.
As matters moved from the comedy to the more tragic, the cast join the shift in mood, providing the shade to the injections of light, and deliver a resounding production, which in the round, is all about balance.
Balancing the comedy and tragedy in the performances.
Balancing the aesthetic between historic and modernity in the costume.
But more importantly, a rebalancing of gender contribution to one of the most famous texts in the world of literature and theatre. Not only in its performing cast, but in its entire cast of creatives.
The late, great Richard Griffiths, as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, proclaimed,
It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane’…
This wonderful all female outfit shows that while not every young woman can play the Dane as well as Eve Shotton, it needn’t carry the extra layer of this being for reasons of gender.
For all details, visit Hamlet at the Hope Mill Theatre
The play runs until Saturday 11 May.
Photography credit: Lucy Ridge Photography