Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Hamlet holds a gun to her own head from the start in Peter Collins’ austere and icily atmospheric reimagining of Shakespeare’s gloomiest and arguably most existential tragedy. Performed by second year BA Acting students in a production that gives a knowing nod to the contemporary wave of Scandic and Nordic noir, Neila Stephens’ troubled Dane is an angry princess in mourning. In a sustained and startlingly mature turn, Stephens lets loose as a black-clad misanthrope who’s used to being the centre of attention, but who has to watch her merry widow mother Gertrude steal her thunder while her father’s grave is barely cold.

The mood-swings that follow see Hamlet go from melancholy to manic and back again as she becomes the original rebel without a cause, with the weight of the world on her shoulders and high anxiety to the max. Of the boys she hangs out with, while Oat Jenner’s Horatio remains devoted, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s special bond with the princess isn’t enough to stop them going undercover and turning grass.

Hamlet’s mutually self-destructive dalliance with Josephine Callies’ Ophelia, meanwhile, however sincere, looks like one more attempt to shock the parents. It is the death of Polonius, played by Hannah Brennan as Ophelia and Laertes’ mother rather than their father, however, that finally tips everyone over the edge.

This is the third cross-gender Hamlet seen in Glasgow in recent years, with one taking place in the same Chandler Studio as Collins’ production. There is extra edge here, however, with the stripped-back stylistic gloom of Kirstin Rodger’s set and sound designer Corey Jackson’s brooding neo-classical underscore. These add texture and nuance to the light and shade complexities of Hamlet’s psyche, so strikingly and stridently brought into play by Stephens, whose Hamlet is left nowhere to hide as she dooms herself to her own demise.