Extra Review: Hamlet, Govanhill Baths

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This time last year, the then-Strathclyde Theatre Group set up stage amid the cold tiles of Govanhill Baths.

The set was fairly traditional; actors on stage on one side of the derelict pool, audience in seats on the other — and, as first productions go, Steaming was a big hit (there’s even a review lurking on this website somewhere to prove it).

When the splinter Govanhill Theatre Group announced Hamlet as this year’s Southside Fringe show, it seemed something of a dive into the deep end.

Shakespeare? And one of his greatest plays at that? In a swimming pool? And an all-female cast?

Thankfully, Govanhill’s new theatre company are accomplished swimmers.

There has been a bit of buzz about Hamlet — not least because of its venue — and even on a chilly Monday night, days after opening, there’s a sizeable audience there to see some tragedy.

That means a jostle for seats too, because technically, there are none — audience members are immersed in the action, allowed to kneel, sit or stand around a moveable set, much like the groundlings of Shakespeare’s day.

An all-female cast may prove another draw for this production, but it’s soon forgotten, as the small cast slip into (and sometimes between) the roles of tyrant, scheming courtier or revenge-driven prince.

Morna McGeoch’s Hamlet is a triumph; tiptoeing lines between madness and reason, bitterness and tenderness — man or woman, the young actress (and co-director) is the Danish prince, and no doubts about it.

Julie Martis is perfectly cast as the fragile Ophelia, and the character’s fate breaks the heart because of her standout performance (all the more so while sitting so close to the action that you could reach out and comfort her).

Deborah Mair provides laughs as a bumbling Polonius and as a gravedigger with a Glaswegian twang, and Lizzie Kane and Elle Crockart make an excellent tag team — while Eleanor Casson is extremely effective as the ghost of the piece, haunting Govanhill Baths throughout.

Perhaps the biggest star of this Hamlet is the venue itself. The cast use the surrounding space (equal parts stunning and eerie) to great effect, filling it out like the audience spread across the pool floor.

If the aim is to showcase a space which so lends itself to large-scale theatre, then they’re going the right way about it — and it looks like the arm bands are well and truly off for Govanhill Theatre Group.

Hamlet runs until Saturday (May 17) at Govanhill Baths. Tickets are £10 (£8 conc) from Brown Paper Tickets.