In a flurry of blues, jazz, and classical music, Ophelia (Sandra Kassman and Emily McDouall on separate nights) explores her relationships with her brother (Jake Snowdon), father (Shaun Wood) and lover (Tom Manson, Luke Roberts). They all share different kinds of intimacies and inhabit a young woman’s world distinctively. The production is imaginative in its concept and staging, but somehow briefly stagnant in its execution at times. With lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet spun into a classical, bordering operatic style, the show proves once again the Bard’s unsurpassable musicality and modernity.

Set designer Kristina Petrova stages the piece in a church, with minimal furnishing and dappled with candles. Ophelia: Madness (in blue) starts off being a very atmospheric show; the natural echo gives the singing a pleasurably eerie vibe, even though the rich and velvet-like sounds have the tendency to overwhelm the voices and drown their significance. Lucy Dreznin’s direction is vivacious where it needs to be and more sombre at the right times. The brief and scattered moments when she juggles the actors as if they were orbiting around Ophelia are subtle; with a bit of polishing these could make the piece.

Kassman is delicate and light as the title character, sliding into a dreamy attitude in parts but retaining her strength and showing naïveté and blind trust towards those she loves. She displays a trained and outstanding voice that sadly gets too suffocated by the music in crucial moments of the narrative. However, Harry Haden-Brown (musical director and piano) and Aaron Bennett (cello) are stunning in their skills. The arrangements flow flawlessly and exude passion.

 The male cast present the most diversity – an old Polonius who shows signs of Parkinson Disease shares the stage with a bold Laertes and a confused Hamlet. Snowdon’s performance as Laertes distinctly stands out (maybe thanks to having the most stage time among the three); his relationship with Ophelia is supportive and teasing, but also resolute and straightforward. As far as Manson’s Hamlet goes, he looks and sounds befuddled, but lacks the necessary pathos in pivotal points – “Get thee to a nunnery!” is delivered with too much insecurity. Wood’s Polonius is amiably curious, the actor going for an air of eccentricity and quirky physicality that are in stark contrast to his son.

Ophelia: Madness (in blue) is a production that aims for poetry with an inventive vein, undeniably (and maybe not purposefully) directed at a niche audience. The talented cast and peculiar ambience make it work, but one wonders if moving it away from such a singular venue might lead the show to lose part of its appeal and shrink it to a caricature of what it could be.

 

★★☆☆☆

Ophelia: Madness (in blue) plays Swiss Church until 18 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets for other shows in the Camden Fringe, click here.