Quite plainly a prince

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
HAMLET. Belgrade Theatre, Coventry Simon Usher's production gives us the plain man's Hamlet. You will readily find Adrian Scarborough's Prince behind the till at the local branch of your building society and his mother Gertrude (Morag Hood) whiling away her lunch hour in the office, painting her nails.

This reductive effect is emphasised by Anthony Lambton's muddle of costumes which speak neither of character nor period but might be called modern with eccentricities. Their artifice reaches a peak at Ophelia's madness. Previously mini-skirted (Polonius would never have tolerated the thigh-hugging hemline), she enters in a pair of her dead father's baggy corduroys, a phallic length of hose-pipe protruding with which she illustrates the bawdy songs.

But if you can overcome the visual incongruities - thrones like bar-stools with the occupants' legs dangling in the air - the play does shine through in a text which Usher has most subtly cut to three and a quarter hours without losing a character or any important element.

In addition, the lines are rapidly, though clearly and thoughtfully spoken and hold our attention. Hamlet's emotional range is muted, the emphasis being the baffling, intellectual puzzle of life rather than the tortured, passionate soul, but Scarborough leads us gently, with delightful touches of ironic humour, on his voyage of discovery. There is also an excellent Polonius from Michael Cronin.

Until September 30, with special low-price schools matinees. Tickets: 01203 553055.

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