|At first, the Actors From the London Stage touring production of Hamlet with a company of only five performers might seem like a theatrical stunt, and there are moments when performances become a bit clever, as when Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, played by the same actor meet Claudius and Gertrude. But on the whole, this full-length production captures the spirit of the play, omitting a few notable moments. Hamlet's "Speech to the Players" is perhaps the most missed, though it would have been nice to hear Richard Stacey, in the title role do "How all occasions do inform...", which also could have introduced Fortinbras sooner. Stacey plays both characters.
Well thought-out doubling and effective blocking are the key to AFLS's success with this production. The opening scene on the battlements is played almost in toto, with Francisco, played by Terence Wilton exits into house left and circles the audience to return on cue sans beret as the Ghost. Wilson also plays Claudius, the Player-King, the 2nd Gravedigger and Reynaldo. The last wouldn't be missed. Geoffrey Beevers enters from house right as Marcellus followed by Robert Mountford as Horatio. Beevers also plays Polonius, the !st Gravedigger and Osric, as well as minor characters. Mountford appears as Laertes as well, plus both Rosencrantz & Guildenstern simultaneously. The one actress in this production, Anna Northam, plays both Gertrude and Ophelia, as well as the Player-Queen, which requires some fancy footwork during the mad scenes. She accomplishes this using only a white scarf to when being Ophelia. There are no major costume changes, just accessories, like two stained aprons for the Gravediggers. The men do remove their jackets now and then, as at the end when these come to symbolize their bodies being "taken up." allowing Stacey to morph into Fortinbras for the coda with Mountford as Horatio.
It's the language which carries the show, The cast are all trained and experienced Shakespeareans, capable of quick and clear verse speaking. With no scene changes and very basic lighting which includes partial house light, the action unfolds at a brisk pace. The acting area is defined by a semicircle of five pairs of identical chairs, moved only slightly and discretely as needed. There's a small rumbly noisemaker which heralds the Ghost, stands in for the carouse and a few other offstage noises. It's used in plain sight by a cast member not in the scene. The cast also whispers lines about to be spoken in counterpoint unison when the location shifts. The show takes only about 15 minutes than the Bard's "brief two hours." Such an approach results in a production which possibly approachs the style of Elizabethean guild hall or manor house productions.
AFTLS was developed as an educational program by Homer Swander in 1975 at UC-Santa Barbara and is now based in London and at the University of Notre Dame. Cast members, who've trained with companies such as Royal Shakespeare, Royal National, and Shakespeare's Globe, are recruited from the ranks of the British theatre and also conduct lectures, seminars and workshops with students and faculty. This presentation was sponsored by the College in association with its theatre program and its resident company, the Wellesley Summer Theatre.