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Hamlet reimagined for young audiences, returned to the National Theatre by Esther Austin

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

‘To be or not to be…’

Hamlet’s dad is dead. His uncle has taken over the kingdom and married Hamlet’s mum. The whole world feels like it’s turned upside down.

A ghostly encounter reveals a dreadful deed has been done. Should Hamlet take revenge?

‘That is the question.’

I went along to see Hamlet last Thursday. As it neared its tour at the National Theatre in London. Hamlet was a humorous, witty, fast-paced and engaging interpretation adapted for audiences 8-12 years old and the essence of the play was still tangibly seen and felt and was sufficiently Shakespearean enough to hold the attention of us seasoned adults. Sometimes as adults, we loose our sense of humour and patience with life and people, therefore at times with the energetic relay of Hamlet, it had my head spinning ‘Dear God, slow down a minute’.

However, other than this sometimes busyness, I found Hamlet, played by Simeon Desvignes, a brilliantly entertaining and amusing adaptation, as I still gasped at Shakespeare’s crafty tapestry of using sly deceitfulness and dishonourable sentimentality and aligning it with love, which in essence is why Shakespeare’s work is still the best home for tragedy.

The narrative of betrayal was superbly potent, and I am sure gave much thought to the children watching, or maybe I’m being too much of a psychologist here, but maybe it gave them a hint of what it was like to feel and be deceived, to lie and the consequences of this. And also, the role of friendships, and their questionable loyalty as displayed by Rosencrantz played by Katherine Payne as and Guildenstern played by Curtis Callier, who were supposed to be two of Hamlet's best friends.

The saga around loyalty and deceit, Hamlet's uncle Claudius played by Ashley Gerlach who killed his father and who

married his mother, Getrude played by Claire Redcliffe, after his father's death, was revealed by ghosts visiting Hamlet one night, and revealing the truth about what happened to his father. We see the torment this placed within Hamlet's heart for revenge and yet we see his pain at such deceitful cunning, by his own blood, and how that further managed to torment him more knowing that Claudius, his uncle was now married to his mother. So within the play there were so many moments that could offer children time to think, to process, to contemplate.

There was also the sibling

love (Ophelia played by Monique Walker and Laertes played by Annabelle Terry) that held such strong bonds within the basket of dreams, love and the wistful tales of family, and youthful gaiety until their father is unintentionally killed by Hamlet, and then the seeds of rage, pain, revenge take over and Laertes full of hatred seeks to destroy Hamlet, and Opheila maddened with the pain of loss, becomes a immobilised with her grief, all without realising that they are all caught in a web of lies, orchestrated by Claudius.

Known for his dark dramatization of tragedy which includes the claws of deception, deceit and ruin whilst bursts of love (between Hamlet and Ophelia played by Monique Walker)

in between, I walked away with subtle nuances understanding Hamlet a little differently.

(Ophelia reading a love letter from Hamlet to her father Polonius, Played by Adam Clifford)

Was this because the performance was a mere 65 minutes long compared to the usual 4 hour jaunt? No, it was nicely condensed and obviously put together to give an over-view of the play to its target audience, but sometimes seeing things through the eyes of a child, or having things broken down for a child’s understanding, adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ for us as adults.

Along with a creatively brilliant cast, and production team who crafted this engaging and inclusive show, it is hoped that younger audiences would be inspired to explore the endless possibilities of Shakespeare and theatre."

Cast: Simeon Desvignes performs the role of Hamlet alongside a full company including Curtis Callier, Adam Clifford, Ashley Gerlach, Kathrine Payne, Claire Redcliffe, Annabelle Terry and Monique Walker

Set and costume design is by Frankie Bradshaw with lighting designed by Paul Knott. Sound is designed by Clark Henry-Brown and Dom Coyote. Music is composed and directed by Dom Coyote and the fight director is Jeremy Barlow. Movement is directed by Shane Dempsey.

Tickets for public booking are now available at

"Introducing young audiences to the world of theatre, an energetic retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies Hamlet returns for a schools tour across England culminating in performances in the Dorfman Theatre from 20 – 28 March 2023. This version is adapted for audiences aged 8–12 years old by Jude Christian (Dick Whittington, National Theatre) and originally directed by Tinuke Craig (The Colour Purple, Vassa). The revival is directed by Ellie Hurt (A Christmas Carol, Shakespeare North Playhouse). Simeon Desvignes performs the role of Hamlet alongside a full company including Curtis Callier, Adam Clifford, Ashley Gerlach, Kathrine Payne, Claire Redcliffe, Annabelle Terry and Monique Walker."

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