By Graham Chalmers
It’s getting towards the time to head upstairs for tonight’s show when a mysterious man who looks a lot like actor Stuart Newsome appears from nowhere to tell us to stay inside Harrogate Theatre’s circle bar.
No one makes a move. Everyone with a ticket has already been given a carefully-created ‘dossier’ – a fake scrapbook of artefacts, drawings and notes put together like a pile of clues from the story of Hamlet.
How very 6:12!
The last time I saw Hamlet was at the West Yorkshire Playhouse where the cast was led by Christopher Eccleston.
The last time I saw 6:12’s Michael Garside, he was playing Toad of Toad Hall in a production of Wind in the Willows by Harrogate Dramatic Society.
Tonight he’s performing Hamlet as a one-man show in the stark surroundings of the studio at Harrogate Theatre with only an oldfashioned hospital bed for a set.
Directing, as well as playing every character himself in this quirky new adaptation - from Prince Hamlet to Ophelia, - the founding member of 6:12 prowls behind, in front of and, occasionally over the bed, teasing the play to life.
Offbeat music, which drifts in and out like the spirit of the deceased King Hamlet himself, sets the tone nicely for this tale of a personality gone off kilter.
I can almost feel the tension in the crowd seated round the bed. Everyone is willing this lone actor to pull it off.
Incredibly he almost does, only making the very odd minor slip, a massive achievement in itself.
For most of the time the effect is spellbinding, the audience put to a hush by Garside’s expressive nature, comic skills and utterly fearless approach.
The standard slips a little only at the very death of this shortened version of Shakespeare’s longest play, at the same point as the offbeat soundtrack itself starts to feel inappropriate.
The multi-talented Garside is more skilled at a whisper than a shout and, as this ultimate revenge play reaches the ultimate climax, he shrinks a little - unsurprisingly.
All in all, this mammoth task has turned into an unexpected triumph.
Formed in 2006, 6:12 may be one of Harrogate’s smallest companies - and I’ve certainly seen excellent productions from other groups such as the previously-mentioned HDS and Woodlands Drama Group.
But, for my money, Michael Garside’s ambition and energy is about the best thing in the town’s impressive amateur theatre scene right now.
6:12 presents Hamlet - Assistant director: Frances Sellars. Technical director: Charlotte Clarke. Music: Alasdair Jamieson. Choreography: Jo Harrison.