Review: Hamilton (Lewis) at the King’s Head Theatre

As you may have heard, a little show called Hamilton opened last year in the West End. It’s been fairly successful, and it’s no big surprise that it’s already been the inspiration for more than one comedic parody. One of these is Hamilton (Lewis) by Fiona English and David Eaton, freshly returned from Edinburgh to the King’s Head, which tells the somewhat less epic story of – you guessed it, British Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

Born and raised in Stevenage, young Lewis (Letitia Hector) wants only one thing: to become world champion. Until 2007, when he’s taken on by Big Ron Dennis (Jamie Barwood) to join the team at McLaren, and meets his villainous teammate/rival Fernando Alonso (Louis Mackrodt), who advises him to “drive less… smile more” and focus instead on building his brand. Cue a seven-year celebrity romance with the only Pussycat Doll anyone ever remembers, Nicole Scherzinger (Liberty Buckland), which gets them on the cover of Hello! magazine but otherwise proves wholly unsatisfying on both sides. Driven by an increasingly obsessive ambition to regain his world champion title at all costs, Hamilton loses sight of what’s important and – well, that’s it really; it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that this story doesn’t end in a deadly duel.

A pre-show disclaimer from the cast makes it clear we shouldn’t get our hopes up too much; after all, it took Lin-Manuel Miranda over four years to write Hamilton, and who has that kind of time on their hands? Instead, Benji Sperring’s production openly plays to its disadvantages, turning its lack of budget, actors and stage space into a running joke. Similarly, there’s no hesitation about admitting that compared with the charismatic Hamilton (Alexander), Hamilton (Lewis) is considerably less interesting, and much of the humour takes aim directly at the characters; nobody comes out of this story in a particularly positive light.

The main joke, though, is obviously the references to Hamilton. Some of these are blatant, others more subtle – but while the story can and does stand alone, the nods occur frequently enough in both script and musical numbers that to fully appreciate what’s going on, you probably need to have at least listened to the Hamilton soundtrack once or twice. Taking such a universally adored show as its inspiration pretty much guarantees a warm reception from an audience who are quickly able to spot the successful jokes, and willing to forgive when a few of them fail to land.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

The production’s biggest success is its excellent cast, who deliver strong vocal performances even as they embrace the madness, hamming it up to outrageous levels in the name of comedy. There’s nothing more enjoyable for an audience than seeing the actors having a good time on stage, and this cast are clearly enjoying themselves immensely.

If you turn up at the King’s Head expecting Hamilton, you’ll be disappointed on several different fronts. But then again, Hamilton (Lewis) never claims to be Hamilton – in fact the cast take great pains to point out to any lawyers in attendance that it definitely isn’t. Chaotic, silly and 100% unendorsed, it nonetheless makes an enjoyable pit stop while you wait for your next chance to buy tickets to the original.

Hamilton (Lewis) is at the King’s Head Theatre until 22nd September.

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Review: Hamlet Part II at the Hen and Chickens

If you’ve ever wondered what happened next after the tragic conclusion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) an answer can be found in the snappily titled Hamlet Part II from the Theatre of Heaven & Hell, returning to the Hen and Chickens after an acclaimed run at this year’s Camden Fringe. Whether it’s the answer Shakespeare had in mind I’m not totally sure, but one thing is certain: it’s a lot of fun.

Fun? I hear you ask, and not without good reason. After all, most of us know how Hamlet (Part I) ends – bodies all over the stage and Denmark’s entire royal family wiped out in one bloody encounter. Making a comedy out of that scenario would take some doing, you could suggest. And yet when you stop and think about it, there actually is something slightly comical about a play in which every character gets wiped out; it’s so extreme that it almost crosses the line from tragedy to comedy.

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Writer Perry Pontac seizes upon this blurring of genres and runs with it, picking up not only on the excessive quantity of corpses but also the many other slightly ridiculous elements of Shakespeare that we all put up with because – well, it’s Shakespeare. The flowery language; the drawn-out death bed speeches; the Fool who talks complete nonsense; the soliloquies that none of the other characters ever hear, even though they’re standing two feet away… all make an appearance. The story’s also packed with references to Shakespeare’s other plays – some subtle, some not so much; you don’t have to be a major literature buff to find the humour in this very accessible show.

Part of Pontac’s ‘Codpieces’ trilogy, the story sees Seltazar (Darren Ruston) return home to Denmark, met by court librarian Fornia (Elena Clements) who reluctantly unfolds the recent tragic events; her list of the dead is so extensive she has to check them all off on a clipboard. Together, with a bit of ‘help’ from a passing Fool (Nicholas Bright), the two attempt to figure out who’s left to take over the throne – but just as they hit upon a solution, the rightful king (Brian Eastty) appears… and it’s not who you might expect.

All four cast members give it their all, though it’s Darren Ruston and Elena Clements who take centre stage as Seltazar and Fornia; their evolving love-hate relationship really is a hilarious joy to watch from beginning to end. And director Michael Ward finds opportunities for humour even when nobody’s saying a word; the opening moments are particularly enjoyable, and so totally unexpected it’s almost impossible not to laugh.

A common complaint about Hamlet is that it’s too long; there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of doing, and – let’s be honest – it’s not exactly the cheeriest of tales. No such problems with the sequel; at just 45 minutes, any hanging around is very much part of the joke, and unlike its predecessor, Pontac’s parody is genuinely a laugh a minute, whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or not. Though I can’t promise nobody dies in this one – it is still Hamlet, after all.


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