The Hillbark Players’ Hamlet at Royden Park, Frankby

Posted on 19 June 2017
By Chris High
  • Share:

A warm summer night in Royden Park near West Kirby on Wirral. Could there possibly be a more idyllic setting for The Hillbark Players to enact the murder and mayhem that exists within Prince Hamlet’s Denmark? A setting and a production of incomparable beauty that’s filled with energy and a curious lightness that makes the three hours seem half that.

The twenty-sixth, biennial Shakespeare production to be put on by this most accomplished of amateur productions companies, puts many a professional troupe to shame. Tight, engaging, enthralling and – above all – passionate, there is not a duff performance to be seen or a single actor who does not revel in their moment beneath the clear blue skies.

As enchanting as any auditorium, the clearing in the woods shrouds these productions in its own natural ambience. The lights reflecting down upon proceedings from the surrounding trees manage to imbue events with their own spectral presence. This long before Mike Ellis makes his ghostly appearance as the newly murdered king, amidst clouds of dry ice and a booming voice that echoes from the hedgerows.

The set is simple but effective. Elsinore is a duel tiered affair in and around which the action takes place, whereas the costumes are each Christmas box bright and accompanied by some of the most lethal looking props imaginable.

As already said, the acting is exemplary, with director Nick Sample having marshalled his troops to within a gnats whisker of perfection. As Claudius, the usurper king, Charles Riley is huge in both voice and deed. His presence is as kingly as his performance, with his deceit lying in his normality.

As Gertrude and Polonia, Pauline Garland and Caroline Kay are both assured in what are two of the most harrowing roles The Bard has created for women players. Similarly, Fiona Williams totally nails the angst and anxiety of Ophelia; her distress and rage clear for all to see.

As Horatio, Stuart Raithe is what everybody wants in a best mate: confident, assured, laid back and determinedly loyal, his is a performance to savour, as is that of Theo Spofforth as the doomed, damned Laertes. And for Pythonesque shenanigans, look no further than Andy Jordan and Geraldine Molony-Judge as the bawdy gravediggers.

Yet, with all this said, there is little doubt that the performance of the evening has to sit firmly with the play’s eponymous character. As with all plays, there are good and bad productions even of Shakespeare’s longest and arguably most beloved of plays. In all of these, the actor playing the lead is either perceived as being either strong or weak in the role of which many, if not everybody, knows at least one line which he utters.

In Adam Stubbs, however, The Hillbark Players have unearthed a true, dynamic, charismatic and thoroughly captivating Prince of Denmark. His delivery and cadence are quite simply top notch, his manner as thought provoking as it is deliciously well timed and his overall ‘normality’ in the face of adversity is as uplifting as it is incredible to watch.

Hamlet may be lofty, metaphysical and wide-reaching. It is also physical, immediate and, in stages, a deeply personal journey. For every “bare bodkin”, there is a “neither a lender nor borrower be”, “to be or not to be” and “alas poor Yorick”. For every “to thine own self be true”, there’s a “the lady doth protest too much”. It is a lofty tale, that here is told with the common touch and The Hillbark Players have produced a play of which every man, woman and child of them should be justly proud.

An absolute joy from beginning to end and roll on production twenty-seven.

Royden Park, Wirral
June 19 – June 24
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Nick Sample
Assistant Director: Ruth Stenhouse
Producer: The Hillbark Players
Images: (c) Helen Parker Photography
Cast Includes: Adam Stubbs, Fiona Williams, Stuart Rathe, Caroline Kay, Charles Riley,
Pauline Garland, Theo Spofforth, James Dorman, Charlotte Cumming, Andy Jordan,
Geraldine Molony-Judge.
Running Time: 3 hrs
PR RATING: ***** Powerful

For Tickets and information: