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A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to be invited to see the Young People’s Shakespeare production of Hamlet at Claremont School in Harrow during its two week tour of London state schools.

I sat amongst journalists, patrons, RSC staff and associates and watched a large group of girls and boys in Year Seven (first year seniors) soak up a dynamic and vibrant production.  They were then given the opportunity to ask questions and to work with the actors on understanding scene setting, how to convey mood with sounds and finally acting out Hamlet’s first scene with the ghost.

YPS Hamlet. Images by Hugo Glendinning

There was a surprisingly small amount of fidgeting and the children threw themselves whole-heartedly into the workshop, the hall was buzzing with enthusiasm and excitement.  Those children who were chosen (hands up straining to be seen “pick me, pick me!”) to act out the scene with the ghost acquitted themselves admirably receiving cheers, ‘high fives’ from the RSC ensemble actors and general applause from the audience.

It was wonderful to see so many children really getting to grips with one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I thoroughly enjoyed Tarell McCraney’s 80-minute adaptation.  It was interesting to see how McCraney brought the play into context for these pre-teens who appeared to be genuinely engaged in the performance.  Ophelia sang a contemporary pop song in her madness; dress was modern with black umbrellas used in abundance as swords, shields and camouflage; Osiric was fabulously camp; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were a modern Tweedledum and Tweedledee; and there was a definite feeling that the actors were ‘down’ with their audience.

The headmaster summed up what I am sure many of us felt when he said that the company had succeeded in genuinely demystifying Shakespeare by telling a good story well: “You can have the best product in the world but if you don’t have the best people delivering it, it’s pointless.”

I for one shall be booking to take my two daughters to the production when it shows at the RSC and then I shall introduce them to the full-length version with David Tennant.  Who could ask for a better introduction to Shakespeare’s tragedy?

By Jane Nead, RSC Friend, London

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