PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am


Fringe Studio

Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Shakespeare gave them short shrift when he wrote Hamlet, but the Perilous Mouths production about to open at the Fringe Studio dispenses with them altogether.

With a running time of around 80 minutes, this is a condensed version of the Bard's longest - and some consider greatest - tragedy. It also omits Fortinbras and several other peripheral characters, but perhaps its boldest modification is to give Polonius a sex change. The role has been taken by director Clare Stearns; the production was instigated by one of her former drama students, Oliver Williams.

Williams, 31, who came to Hong Kong with his family in 1984 and grew up here, studied in London at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and joined the National Theatre for two seasons before switching to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2003. He has also worked in British television, but returned to Hong Kong in pursuit of film work.

He has since been busy with film projects in both performing and production capacities, but the stage is in his blood and, like most serious actors, he wanted a crack at Hamlet.

He also hopes to raise money for a cause. His grandmother's loss of sight focused his attention on the needs of the visually impaired, and the production is being staged in aid of the Hong Kong Schools and Homes for the Visually Impaired.

He originally asked Stearns to direct and play Gertrude, but feeling that both were too much to take on, she opted for Polonius instead.

'It has affected the text to some extent, but I don't think it disrupts it too much, and I think we've found a way to solve the problems that don't affect the core themes of the play,' Williams says. 'Clare is very good and quick at cutting. She did the brutal cuts, and then we worked together to refine our version.'

Williams says he has had 'a passion for classical texts' since childhood, and is hoping this production may communicate something of that to the younger members of the audience. 'When kids are taught Shakespeare these days, they are asked to get enthusiastic about the stories, and I don't think that's right,' he says.

'The absolute importance of Shakespeare and what should be taught in schools - but very rarely is - is that Shakespeare is the architect of the greatness of the English language. He is not just a playwright. He is the man who refined the English language to fully express the human condition. The plays are brilliantly written. It's unbelievable what you can find in just a few lines of well-structured text.'

Hamlet, Tue-Sat, 7.30pm, Sat also 3.30pm, Fringe Studio, HK$150, HK$160, HK$200 (all tickets on Tue HK$150) HK Ticketing, www.hkticketing.com, tel: 31288288. Inquiries: 25217251