A GREAT DANE
OK I'll come clean. I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare and in fact, I'd never before seen Hamlet. So Brighton actor and director George Dillon's version, at Brighton's Komedia, was my first meeting with the crazed Dane.
I expected impenetrable prose, but what I got was a rollicking good story, as good as any you'd find in the tabloids. Uncle kills brother, the king. Then he marries king's wife. Hamlet, the king's son is pretty upset. In fact, he's mad. There you have it.
It's the sort of stuff that Deirdre sorts out every day of the week! But the play's the thing, as they say in Hamlet. The physical interactions, say between Dillon as Hamlet and his mother, is electrifying stuff, and says more than any soliloquy.
What is normally a four hour epic is cut down to two and a half with some expert slashing of text, which actually allows the less tutored mind to keep track. George got the best-known bit over with at the start by dashing off the To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy. Well, that's that then, I thought. But there was more. Hamlet is jam-packed with great stuff like that and Dillon does it justice.
Dillon and the seven-strong cast handle some of the Dillonesque strangeness with ease. For instance, Guildenstern is a dog hand-puppet, and even I know that's stretching things a bit.
Hamlet is indeed 'far gone', as Dillon makes very clear as only he can, appearing on stage at one point like a deranged caveman. But there's method in his madness and Hamlet is a success, largely due to the cast's understanding of where Dillon is taking it, into new, uncharted territory.
Jonathan Morris, THE ARGUS, 21 March 1995
A QUESTION OF EXCELLENCE
George Dillon launches into the To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy at the start of his production of Hamlet, and so begins a two-hour ride through the tragedy as Dillon sets out to portray the prince as a man of action. A fine cast, in particular David Meyer as Claudius and Beth Fitzgerald as Ophelia, ensure that the play does not become the George Dillon show, despite the power of his performance.
Mark Campanile, EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS, 17 August 1995
A VERY PALPABLE HIT
I can honestly say George Dillon's Hamlet is one of the most entertaining productions I've seen. It's full of innovations. George is an exceptional talent and the role could have been written for him. Few productions of this play hold the attention as much as this because you never know quite what to expect.
Michael Booth, THE PUNTER, July 1995
Despite the director/star infiltrating even the title, George Dillon's two-hour Hamlet remains, or emerges as resolutely and occasionally scintillatingly Shakespearean.
Feverish and compelling, the production draws its inspiration, in terms of courtly hierarchy from Japan; the company come kitted out in vaguely Samurai costume, Hamlet and Laertes fling themselves into kendo combat, and impassive musicians sit at either side of an otherwise bare stage. In terms of acting, it is full throttle School of Berkoff; swift and brutal, the seven actors posturing, scuttling, roaring and whispering, snatching each moment for instant effect. Hurling aside the less-is-more style of acting, Dillon frequently gives us the exact reverse.
His Hamlet, already hyperactive, is, when feigning madness, absolutely barking. Behind all this simmers a restless, constrained maverick, a natural fighter contemptuous of his fellow man and finally brought low by cool, malign authority.
It may not be a penetrating interpretation, but you can't take your eyes off it for a second. Dillon's performance bursts with swaggering vitality. It is never less than idiosyncratic, and alternately perverse, virile, willful, illuminating and extravagant, and sometimes all five at once. His vocal control is astonishing. Denise Evans's shaven-headed, lithe Gertrude and David Meyer's domineering Claudius shine and are never over-shadowed.
Peter Whitebrook, THE SCOTSMAN, 14 August 1995
HAMLET AS EVERYMAN
Opening with "To be or not..." as a thematic prologue, it looks as if we're in for a deconstructed evening, but what follows is a straight cut (no battlements, Polonian advice or Fortinbras) through the action with a much-doubling cast of six plus Dillon's Prince.
When the publicity says "George Dillon's Hamlet" it refers to more than his presentation of a noble mind that from the start can break into childish fits of petulance; whose cheeky peck at Claudius's cheek when calling him mother is the behaviour of someone consumed by such a longing for his father he almost treats Old Hamlet as a mother, trying to crawl back into a womb.
As director Dillon has drawn on the notion of Hamlet as a potential Everyman by treating the play as a meeting point of theatre traditions, (Hamlet as samurai) while comic buffoonery surrounds Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, the one a camp figure, the other a gruff glove puppet dog - palace poodles the pair. Unsurprisingly for someone who has worked closely with Steven Berkoff, Dillon provides a strongly physical theatre, often to thrilling effect. In the bedchamber of Denise Evans' forceful Gertrude he mimes two picture frames, filling them with Hamlet's favoured portraits of his father and uncle. Then there's the poetry of Ophelia's funeral - grotesquery with Yorick's skull and a slow procession headed by Ophelia herself who walks silent to the grave, lies down and is covered in the red train which had represented Polonius' blood. No, not the complete Hamlet but as vital and alive as you'll find.
Timothy Ramsden, TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT, 28 July 1995
An incredible Hamlet. George Dillon's production brilliantly taps into the headlong madness of the play so often submerged by more classical interpreters. It's fast, physical and frequently hilarious. Gertrude has a shaven head, Ophelia bops to the Pulp Fiction theme, and as for Rosencrantz... well, see for yourselves. Traditionalists may squirm, but you can't make a good Hamlet without breaking eggs. Unmissable.
TRIPLE F, 1995
I thought I knew "Hamlet" - until George Dillon got hold of it! His version (he is both Director and lead) starts with "To be or not to be", which has to be one of the most audacious decisions in theatrical history. The production promised "2 hours of sex, comedy, murder and madness". In reality, you get rather more of all four.
I was deeply curious to see what Dillon would do with Hamlet, and now see what all his previous adulatory reviewers were on about. He is physical, intense, a chameleon of an actor. One moment he is tearing your heart out, the next he is clowning around. His unusual face can transform itself from tragic melancholy to malignant imp in a flash. Hamlet needs a dangerous actor to play him, and George Dillon is one such, with both the physical and vocal discipline to carry the whole thing off.
This is not a production for Shakespeare worshippers. The simple platform production makes wonderful use of music to send up the tragedy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a tour de force. Both are played by Simon Merrells, as a ventriloquist with talking dog glove puppet - a brilliant device. Simon Merrells is equally good as Laertes, striking just the right balance between the puppy-like quality of a young man entering manhood, and the terrible anger of the bereaved son and brother. Beth Fitzgerald gets every ounce she can out of Ophelia, revealing grief and sexual repression in her madness. Both are there in the text, but the latter tends to get glossed over.
My only reservations centre round Gertrude and Claudius. Katia Caballero looks wonderful as a very young Gertrude. The problem is that she looks no older than her son. Andrew Tansey is oily and untrustworthy as Claudius, but somehow not odious enough in my view. This production goes to Lewes, Crawley and Tunbridge Wells in the summer. I recommend it highly.
Jacky Hilary, WORDS & MUSIC, July/August 1995
George Dillon's Tour Dates
(as of Sunday, 23 February 2020)
2nd March 2020