Do women still need to fight for space simply to be? As uncomfortable as it is to watch a woman always holding back, are we willing to see her rage?
I recommend watching Bristol University Spotlights’ ‘Ophelia’ to help answer such questions with their play based on Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ but very much set in the world of a modern Ophelia.
This is a world where we don’t quite learn how Hamlet would come to kill Ophelia’s father, but that is actually in keeping with it being Ophelia’s story and with the narrowness of the space within which she is confined. The play is particularly strong at the start, revealing the young protagonist’s mind: very real, very relatable. Her meeting with Hamlet beautifully demonstrates why she is attracted to him and why he can take such possession of her mind and heart. In portraying Ophelia’s journey through the minefields of her family life and this new relationship, the actor playing her gives a strong central performance with believability, vulnerability and strength.
As a whole, the cast does not fully match this quality of performance but does provide very able support. You can see abilities such as a distinctive flair for characterisation and the knowledge of when / when not to take the limelight, and the actors commit to difficult tasks, such as deeper revelations and more aggressive behaviours. Dialogue does not always help here, sometimes sounding clichéd or more psychotherapy based than natural to the character speaking.
Direction is simple and effective, and two hanging torsos put to good use for costume change, character representation, and an over-arching threat of doom, hanging as they do on gallows-like constructions. It is clear that the company has given a lot of thought and commitment to the show, and this – their first performance of the run – was one to be proud of.
Expectations are still imposed upon us based on what our genitalia looks like in the womb or at birth. Here the damaging effect on a young woman is the focus, without excluding harm done to everyone, and yes, this is still a story that should be told.
‘Ophelia’ is a thought-provoking drama exploring concerns of young people today and proving those to be the concerns of many who have gone before. It is far from all doom and gloom, some light touches very amusing even as they highlight challenges, and it offers hope, along with a fair amount of the spirit of the Fringe: fresh, thought-provoking, and worth taking a chance on.
Final show: 19th August. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/ophelia
Reviewer: Danielle Farrow
Reviewed: 14th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: