Theatre company Peppermint Muse certainly lives up to its motto of keeping thought-provoking theatre alive with its current production at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans.

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Hold Off The Earth is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet written and directed by Steve Cunningham, well-known on the local stage as an actor and director.

And it certainly has an unusual take on Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies, not least the notion of having both a man and woman playing the eponymous hero.

It is an interesting idea and one which brings out the opposing sides of Hamlet’s personality. In the more than capable hands of Andrew Margerison and Lisa White, it is not intrusive in any way but works effectively even though one Hamlet or the other takes centre stage at any given time.

If the audience were ever in any doubt before buying their tickets, it was clear that this was going to be Hamlet with a difference right from the outset.

Key cast members rose from the floor against original music composed by Nearly a Chaos with Ophelia giving an ethereal quality to the opening lines of Shakespeare’s play using the words “Whose there?” more usually attributed to a guard on the ramparts of the Danish castle.

We are also introduced to the Hamlets with the famous soliloquy, “To Be or Not To Be”, usually much further into the play but which is a clever tactic in relation to the manifestation of Hamlet’s split personality.

I am no expert on Hamlet but it seemed to me that the role of Ophelia was given more prominence than in the original version and Louisa Stevens, too long absent from the local stage, rises to the challenge forcefully.

The loss of Ophelia’s girlishness and her descent into madness are beautifully handled and the scene where she kills herself is spellbinding, relying as it does on an impression of water and little else.

Stephen has attracted a strong cast, many of whom take several roles, and even if you are not a huge fan of Hamlet, Hold Off The Earth is a stimulating adaptation of a classic play which is well worth seeing.

Final performances are being given at 8pm from tonight (Thursday) until Saturday (15) and tickets are £12.50, available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/ovo

MADELEINE BURTON

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