Teenage cast attack National Theatre’s new plays with verve

En garde!: action from The Prince of Denmark     Picture: Charles Round
En garde!: action from The Prince of Denmark Picture: Charles Round

Calderdale Theatre School National Theatre Connections

Square Chapel, Halifax

By Derek Greenwood

Set 10 years before Shakespeare’s play, Michael Lesslie’s The Prince of Denmark prequel follows Hamlet, Laertes and his sister Ophelia in their teenage years, tangling with those around them as they fumble around their designated and pre-destined roles.

Ophelia, played acutely by Katy Rainford, explores the art of “being a sister first and a woman second”, as she resists the attentions of the ridiculous, muling buffoon Osrick despite her brother Laertes’ constant mithering that she must “do it” for her mother’s sake.

Osrick, wittily played by William Pugh, neither a fighter nor a fop, struggles to establish himself as rival to Hamlet, fuelled by the dastardly and lethal plan of Laertes. With lots of pretentious posturing, scary sabre wielding, pointless machismo and the divisive meddling of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the tale meanders towards the timescale of the more familiar script but seemed to leave us hanging on the verge of something we knew not what, despite the convenience of foresight.

The second piece, After Juliet by Sharman Macdonald, was written in 1996 and explores the aftermath of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. A potentially feisty re-run between Montagues and Capulets, in the form of Juliet’s cousin Rosaline – confidently portrayed by Eve Gregory – and Romeo’s best friend Benvolio, gets a little lost in revenge for the sake of revenge but is rescued by sound ensemble playing, resonating with angry young men and women and two families still at war.

Interesting stuff from a theatre school chosen to be part of a festival of National Theatre-commissioned new plays, staged again tonight (7.30pm).