Antony Tuckey's programme note may suggest that Hamlet is always full of surprises: his production springs relatively few - and for this relief much thanks. As it gathers pace after a comparatively early interval, the plot shines through. The result is a gripping "double" revenge play as Laertes and Hamlet compete to avenge their murdered relatives.
This particular Elsinore is a late 19th century Baltic state, concerned about its neighbours' military manoeuvres and civil unrest at home. The guards on the battlements are there for very good reasons: Claudius is not popular with his people. Ambassadors stand stiffly in their tight-fitting court uniforms and the travelling players might as readily perform Chekhov as The Mousetrap. Only the ghost seems out of place - an escapee from another play rather than another world.
If the production lacks fireworks, there are still some fine performances. Constance Barrie as Ophelia is heartrending in her mad scenes; David Timson gives us a Polonius who is as convincing as he is bumbling and Leslie Tuckey doubles Laertes and Rosencrantz, playing the former with fire and the latter with a chilling mixture of charm, guile and bewilderment.
Martin Marquez (fresh from television's The Bill) seems intent on making sure we like Hamlet. His "Get thee to a nunnery" seems as if it really is the kindest course of action he can suggest; and, while some may feel his soliloquies sound too mundane, it is an intelligent reading of the role. Above all, this is a Hamlet that honours the text (despite cutting 900 lines) and will not give examination candidates wayward ideas about what Shakespeare "really" meant.
Until February 25. Box office: 01473 253725. Running time 3 hrs 5 mins.