Sham: Shakespearean drama given a productive delivery in a familiar context

Review: Gúna Nua’s production puts Hamlet in a modern Limerick gangland setting

To be faithful or not to be faithful, that is the question to consider when producing Shakespeare for the contemporary stage.

Gúna Nua takes a radical approach to the challenge in Sham, a version of Hamlet set in modern gangland Limerick, where drug dealers are royalty and the battle for power is a dealer’s struggle to maintain a stronghold over local territory.

Written by Paul Meade, Sham opens with a soliloquy haunted by the supernatural. It is recorded on a smart-phone by Kid – played by Aidan Crowe, in an amalgam of several of Hamlet’s minor characters – and he delivers his illboding speech straight to the camera.

We see it projected larger than life on the back wall of Sham’s bedroom. The language is familiar, not Elizabethan, but there is internal rhyme and rhythm to the speech, which slips as easily as slam poetry from Crowe’s lips.

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As the action segues onto the stage we meet Sham (Karen McCartney), who has just returned from college after the murder of her father. Her mother Trudy (Andrea Irvine) has already aligned herself with the murderer, Audie (Gary Murphy), while Sham’s girlfriend Felia (Bláithín Mac Gabhann) has succumbed to sweet opium since Sham has been away.

Irene Enguita’s set design is saturated with surveillance technologies. TV monitors line three sides of the stage, providing characters with a beady-eyed view of business not their own. Jay Kavanagh’s faltering lights and Chris Somers’ sinister static-heavy sound design add to the dark atmosphere.

Movement through the set’s spaces, however, is problematic and director Amy Conroy struggles to demarcate exterior and domestic spaces, and entrances and exits on the split stage are also problematic.

Mapping Meade’s play on top of Shakespeare’s origin is potentially a glib shortcut to relevance, but the transposition is ultimately productive. It will be of particular relevance for a younger audience, who will see the clear relational dynamics of the play in a context more familiar to their own lives and cultural register.

Sham will be available on demand in January 2022