15 John Dougall

Hamlet played by John Dougall.
Directed by Eoin O'Callaghan.

So from Hamlet in an hour, to half an hour and now a production in half even than that time. Tom Stoppard’s Fifteen Minute Hamlet is excerpted from his longer 1976 play, Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, the former section of which is an intellectual exercise in demonstrating the schism between words and context. Three school children, speaking in a new language ‘Dogg’ attempt to put on a production of Hamlet, with this being their resulting production, a collection of excerpts from the major scenes and famous speeches mostly keeping the narrative sense of the piece. Unlike those other short forms though, this is played for laughs and no attempt has been made to construct a story lucid enough to be understandable a novice or someone approaching the play for the first time.

It would be pointless to list all of the omissions, except to say that The Players get but one line, there isn’t time to see Laertes off and that we hear more of mad Ophelia than Ophelia the sane. Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are only mentioned in Hamlet’s letter to Horatio reporting their death. Amazingly, he does manage to cram in Fortinbras though and spends a couple of minutes over the fight sequence, presumably because when staged this would still provide the thrilling conclusion on stage. It’s worth noting too that of the themes he chooses for his narrative through line (such as it is), the emphasis is on the quick marriage of Hamlet mother to his uncle -- many of the lines which aren’t ‘well known’ refer to that.

Then at close of the first run around (which actually lasts thirteen minutes), and after some appreciation from an audience, the play is repeated, in an encore lasting but a two minutes; a whirlwind, there’s scarcely time for anything but Hamlet gets most of the wordage and it only features the actors who would be on stage for the finale. I was reminded of The Last Night of the Proms, the ever quickening tempo during Pomp and Circumstance in which the conductor and orchestra are trying to catch the promenaders out.

This production was broadcast as part of BBC Radio's Three and Four’s Stoppard season in June and July 2007 and since it works so pacefully the radio, I can’t imagine how it might be accomplished on stage. Produced much in the same style as the BBC Millenium productions, weighted with atmospheric sound effects and orchestral music it’s certainly a passionate rendition and through Eoin O'Callaghan's direction importantly shows that in cutting, Stoppard still managed to give each of the characters and so the actors a moment to savour.

What that means is that amazingly it is possible to say that none of the actors embarrasses themselves and that John Dougal’s is a very lucid Hamlet, brooding when he needs to be, his delivery of what’s left of ‘The Readiness is all’ just perfect. It does have a touch of the Olivier’s, but with so little time and so few words to develop a psychological profile for his version of the prince he’s bound to pick a tried and tested model. The cast work so well together, that it’s a shame that all we’ll ever hear of them is in this fifteen minute fragment -- I certainly would have liked to have heard what Jasmine Callan would make of Ophelia over a longer period, Nitin Ganatra’s Horatio too.

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