Botanic Garden, Glasgow

Neil Cooper


ON a calm night, the dusk that falls over Glasgow as Bard in the Botanics' outdoor production of Shakespeare's angstiest tragedy can't help but add atmosphere as the play moves to its grim conclusion. Opening with a coffin lying in state as a funeral procession gathers to honour the death of the king, the wedding that follows is just as bleak for a still black-clad Hamlet, who takes a tantrum as widowed Queen Gertrude gets hitched to her dead husband's brother.

The twist here is that, rather than being a sulky prince, Hamlet here is a woman, played with fire and steel by Nicole Cooper as a foot-stamping, pistol-packing daddy's girl in mourning. This makes for a fascinating set of relationships, from the emotional ties between fathers and daughters onwards. In Hamlet's case, her loss causes her to lash out at all about her, with the tensions with her mother ramped up even more by her brattish unwillingness to accept Claudius as a replacement dad.

There is too the added frisson to the already spiky tug of love between Hamlet and Stephanie McGregor's Ophelia. It is the loss of Ophelia's own father, however, that prompts her own even more extreme reaction. With Claire Macallister as Rosencrantz, the way Hamlet looks at her old school chum’s wedding ring finger suggests they were more than just friends. That fate is left to Stephen Arden's poor Horatio, who is clearly besotted with Hamlet in desperately unrequited fashion.

All of which makes Gordon Barr's production an even more dysfunctional merry go round than even Shakespeare possibly intended. This works in the main, with Cooper staying true to the play's core. In a performance full of ferocious clarity, she takes no prisoners as she captures all the heartbroken vulnerability of a young woman who just lost the first and possibly only man she ever loved.