Review: Hamlet, Northern Ballet, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

SWASTIKA alert. On the one hand, you could laugh at Mel Brooks’s neo-Nazi musical camping up Hitler all this week in The Producers at the Grand Opera House, York. On the other, you could become emotionally enmeshed in something rotten in the state of the Nazi-occupied Paris in Northern Ballet’s revival of Hamlet.

Premiered in 2008, it remains the most audacious ballet in the armoury of Canadian choreographer David Nixon in his ten years as artistic director of the Leeds company.

Out go old Denmark, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and death by sword, poison or suicide; in come 1940s France, Ophelia distributing Swastikas rather than flowers, and death by gunfire. Hamlet (Tobias Batley) is a young French soldier, who strips to the waist; his uncle, the usurping Claudius (Darren Goldsmith) is the Head of Police; and Polonius (Martin Bell) works for the French/German Gestapo. Goosesteps become dance steps as soldiers march across the stage.

In co-director Patricia Doyle’s scenario, Batley’s Hamlet and Georgina May’s Ophelia have the chance to express their innocent young love before the rot sets in.

For raunchy contrast, Goldsmith’s Claudius and Victoria Sibson’s outstanding Gertrude get properly jiggy with each other in a thrilling sequence. Nixon sets his company the choreographic challenge of torture and gang rape, taking Hamlet into darker, more brutal territory, the scenes being disturbing, but sailing a little close to melodrama.

The one loss that cannot be surmounted entirely successfully is Hamlet’s soliloquies, replaced by physical expression that conveys his troubled soul and outsider status but not his intellect. Yet the dancing is so exhilarating that Nixon’s Hamlet still triumphs.

Hamlet, Northern Ballet, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until Saturday. Box office: 0113 213 7700.

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