Steven Berkoff’s The Secret Love Life of Ophelia provides the backstory to one of the Shakespeare’s most tragic couples. Adapted directly in response to the closure of theatres during the coronavirus pandemic, Greenwich Theatre’s new version, directed by James Haddrell, has taken the epistolary nature of the play and converted it into a series of video messages, which makes it a perfect piece of drama for an online production.
The piece opens with a clever and imaginative explanation of what is about to be shown, creating a believable world from the off and providing the opportunity for a large cast of forty actors to play the roles of only two characters, alongside a special guest appearance from Dame Helen Mirren. There are some nice special effects which emphasise the technical backstory and a clever use of emojis in the contact names preceding each message enhance the mood of the story.
The messages are delivered with good emotion throughout, a strong level of passion being evident in the more intimate messages and the pain and tragedy of the hopelessness of the relationship often palpable. Some familiarity with Hamlet is probably helpful and, as each message is delivered by a different actor, some of the build up of watching the actor develop the character and progress through the story is lost, but as a set of monologues it is an excellent showcase of up and coming talent.
The messages are filmed in a variety of locations, indoors and outdoors, which, as well as telling Ophelia and Hamlet’s story, also gives a nice glimpse into life in lockdown and what remote dating might have been like for people during this time. Imaginative use of props and mirrors are clever touches which create some very nice moments during the piece.
There are the usual limitations created by epistolary work and it would have been nice to see a more in depth look at Ophelia’s character. The messages were a little repetitive on occasion, but overall this is an is an imaginative and original piece of online theatre, which has made the best out of the current situation. Often tender and poignant, and well performed throughout, this interesting piece of drama adds a new slant to an old play in a new way.
The Secret Love Life of Ophelia is being streamed on YouTube until 14th August 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YuKc7kJVSs&fbclid=IwAR1LxZ7Y_6G5jSHUGt-RQ-DsCVt4RSUGvg3a460Y6cy-KEmT3XvIOpSVLio
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 3rd August 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★