Review: Bad Quarto’s ‘Hamlet’. Lives Up To It’s Name.

Thomas Burns Scully

OnStage New York Critic


NEW YORK, NY - There comes a point when you start working on a negative review where you wonder what the point of it all is. I’ve just seen a play that was bad, but the scale of the performance was such that it feels vindictive to rip it to shreds. It feels like I would be laying in to a High School production, an enthusiastic bunch of people who’s lack of skill is not a result of poor intention, but of lack of experience. I suppose that’s the one of the few redeeming factors of Bad Quarto’s production of ‘Hamlet - Quarto 1’, these people have good intentions. But there’s not much else besides that to commend it. In the review that follows I will make a few postures towards kindness. I will keep it brief, and, unless offering praise, I will leave names off it. I will also say that I considered not writing a review about this show. It just doesn’t feel ready for it. But if you are going to market yourself as a professional theatre company and invite critics, this is what will happen. So, let’s talk about this mess…

You all know the plot of ‘Hamlet’. If you don’t, there is a ‘Simpsons’ episode where they do the whole thing in ten minutes. Go watch that and come back. ‘Hamlet - Quarto 1’ is essentially the first draft. The plot is basically the same, but a few characters names are different, a few plot points are minutely changed, and the famous speeches are all slightly awry. It’s not too far off the final cut we’re all averse with, but I’ll admit there’s a certain thrill to hearing “To be or not to be, ay that’s the point” instead of the more familiar line. Bad Quarto staging the unfinished product is an interesting decision, but not especially engaging. There really isn’t much to the presentation beyond a mild academic curiosity (which is difficult to appreciate without the original text to hand). However, I understand the concept and see how it could work. Although it doesn’t work here.

Everything about this show felt weightless and rushed. From the staging in a rehearsal room, to the out-of-tune, poorly rehearsed acoustic set that preceded the show, to the largely imagination-less performances. There isn’t anything to commend this production. There’s no style or mise-en-scène beyond a ramshackle “this is what we found in a cupboard” look. The fluorescent light strips kill any attempt at atmosphere. The blocking feels sloppy. The actors feel undirected. None of the high-stakes emotion that flows through ‘Hamlet’s veins is present. All attempts at same fall short, save Beatriz Browne descent in to madness as Ofelia (the name is spelled differently in Quarto 1). Seeing her strumming her strangeness out on a guitar was rather touching, but it was the only real moment in a mirthless, guileless, vimless sea of bland. I’ve seen better imitations at life from Tamagotchis.

That’s all there is to say. This show does nothing to endear itself. And, before intimations are made, I’m not just getting down on small-scale productions of Shakespeare. Read back through my past reviews and you’ll find me saying some very nice things about ‘Hamlet Isn’t Dead’, ‘Modern Shakespeare Project’, ‘Rogue and Peasant Players' and ‘For Love and Duty’. This is unique to this group. You can do good Shakespeare on a shoestring budget, but Bad Quarto has not. Choosing to do the Quarto 1 version of ‘Hamlet’ is interesting, but not engaging. Without some stylistic flair to create the idea of comparison, essentially you are just performing a shorter, worse version of ‘Hamlet’. If the acting were great, that might excuse it, but (apart from Browne) it’s not. If the look of the play were incredible, that might excuse it, but it’s not. The only reason to pay money to see this show is if you have a friend in the cast. And even then, they had better be a damn good friend. Because if you have to sit through this life-less, intermission-less, two-and-a-half hour vasectomy that has all the appeal of scuba-diving in expired milk, and pay for the privilege, you had better be getting sympathy fellatio out of it at a later date. I know I didn’t.

Bad Quarto’s ‘Hamlet’ will play at Studios 353 (353 W. 48th St. New York) from March 26h through April 10th. Tickets start at $20 and are available here:

This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

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