Smokescreen on Waiting for Hamlet

14 June 2021

Everyone dies in the end. Sorry, that’s a bit bleak, isn’t it? I’m talking about Hamlet, and I’m assuming that a Bristol Shakespeare Festival audience would be aware of its Tarantino-esque body count. After all, it’s been around for well over 400 years so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it ends with a startled Norwegian bursting in to find a stage full of bodies, swords, blood and poison and a poor chap called Horatio, the last man standing, who’s going to have a lot of awkward questions to answer.

Hamlet is so harsh on its characters that two of them have snuffed it before they even reach the stage. I’ll give you a minute to think about who they are.

Waiting for Hamlet finally kicked off its debut tour this month, a whole year later than planned. The early days of a run feel like tightrope walking in flip-flops. The Fool skipped a page and a half during one of the first shows in Brighton, and The King seamlessly went with him, because he’s a battle-hardened veteran and that’s what actors do. I sat at the back of the stalls and panicked hard enough for all three of us. They came down a little early, but that just meant I got to the bar sooner, so no harm done.

As a non-performing writer you’re pretty much redundant once the lights go up but I’ve found myself compelled to lurk in the darkness and watch my Earthbound words grow wild wings and fly around the theatre. They’re being flung to the Gods by two great performers, Tim Marriott and Nicholas Collett, who I have somehow convinced, cajoled and in all probability conned into throwing themselves into Waiting for Hamlet this summer. They’re the ones who will be packing a box and two crates (that’s our set, we travel light) into a family-sized saloon and coming to The Room Above on June 24-25. Go and see them, and be as amazed as I am by what they can do.

It’s The King and The Fool, by the way – they’re the two characters who are dead before Hamlet even starts. Hamlet’s father and his faithful sidekick, Yorick, both drop in from beyond the grave to twist the plot. In the dead king’s case, it’s his wounded pride, his inability to take death lying down, that sets in motion the trail of destruction after which, four hours, five acts and one extortionately expensive tub of Haagen-Daz later, everyone dies.

So I thought, what if the old Fool Yorick could persuade the old fool Hamlet to stay dead? What if the ghost never walks? There’s no deaths, no invasion of Denmark. Claudius and Gertrude will work something out with the neighbours, Hamlet will stop sulking eventually, and Ophelia will live long enough to acquire some more appropriate swimming gear.

So it’s all up to you, Yorick. Can you stop the King making the biggest mistake of his afterlife? 

Waiting for Hamlet by David Visick, with Tim Marriott as The King and Nicholas Collett as The Fool, comes to The Room Above, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol, on June 24-25, 8.00pm.