The curtains part and a young woman enters the stage. She immediately breaks the fourth wall as she realises the audience is in the room with her. Thanks to her tear-stained make-up and dirty wedding dress, she looks tragically beautiful.
The show is a tragically moving story of Ophelia’s madness and why her spiral begins, from the unique point of view of the character herself. There is brilliant imagery throughout the show; most significantly, her wedding dress is the symbol of the marriage she could have had if not for her untimely death.
The show begins with her explanation of who she is, who her lover is, and how many different variations of Hamlet there are. The dialogue is both modern yet reflects the past with subtle lines from the original play. The modernisation doesn’t end with the dialogue, but is also incorporated the stories told by the cast – memories of trips to Disneyland and talk of cars. This, paired with the modern backing track allows the everyday audience to relate to the show and cast more. There is an anger stirred deep in those viewing the play, as this modernisation brings with it a battle of male and female importance within Shakespeare’s work. Ophelia is also Dead fantastically helps the audience realise the true heartbreak felt by Ophelia, and the often misogynistic way Shakespeare wrote women in his plays.
The other cast members are simply supporting actors to the true star of the show. Fionna Monk plays on the sporadic behaviour of her Ophelia, but uses this to empower her rather than silence her. Her character’s development is absolutely stunning, from the comedic banter she has with she audience to an utterly compelling and flawless monologue of Ophelia’s drowning. The horror and pain in Monk’s voice stuns the audience into silence. A heartbreaking realisation abounds in the room, not only at how young Ophelia is supposed to be, but how so many of Shakespeare’s female characters are neglected in favour of men – Ophelia is simply cast away to further the development of Hamlet.
The saddest but most important scene is the final one, where Ophelia is surrounded by the cast playing out Gertrude’s monologue in which she describes the Ophelia’s drowning. Monk dances with the famous skull as a melancholy yet modern piece of music is played behind her, throwing another new-age twist into the production. The use of the whole cast in this scene makes it completely heartbreaking; we see how much Ophelia means to the other characters, but the peace on Monk’s face gives the audience a shared peace of mind. Ophelia has made her peace with the situation and can finally pass on.
The final embrace of the couple simply melts the heart and stirs the love of Shakespeare into the audience once more but it is safe to say that Ophelia will be viewed in a very different and much more empowering light by those leaving this show.
Ophelia is also Dead is on at TheSpace @ Niddry Street
At 22:20 until 24th August
Book tickets here