Gertrude The Cry - Howard Barker. Riverside Studio's, London October 2002
Barker has written a play based on some of the familiar figures we meet in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Mother, uncle and son from Shakespeare's play are joined by several new characters, and this play examines the love between Gertrude and Claudius, and the tangled web of love, morality and death.
King Hamlet is murdered by Claudius, poison is poured into his ear, but the King does not die without bearing witness to his wife and brother having sex before him. The King dies and Queen Gertrude cries out with an ecstatic orgasmic sob. The play examines this, and the sincerity of Gertrude in orgasm, as Claudius longs to witness this heartfelt sobbing cry again.
Hamlet (Tom Burke) is unable to mourn his father's death. He acts as an inquisitor, questioning the moral conduct of his mother and uncle, however as Hamlet has embraced madness, he is not in a fit state to be able to offer any firm advice. Indeed, Hamlet's own morality is questionable as he marries a character called Ragusa whom he despises. She again has a questionable moral conduct, because despite being Hamlet's wife, she proceeds to have an affair with her husband's best friend, Albert. Whilst Ragusa declares it is impossible to be able to love Hamlet, her mother-in-law, Gertrude, also succeeds in seducing Albert.
Hamlet is disgusted by the behaviour of Ragusa and Albert, and that of Gertrude and Claudius, but no character is willing to show any contrition about their behaviour which leaves Hamlet despairing the immorality all around him. He is confused, he does not understand what is happening around him, but believes everyone else is conversant of what is going on and as he becomes aware of what schemes have been planned, he ultimately succumbs to his fate.
This is an enjoyable black comedy of catastrophic and erotic behaviours, questioning the integrity of people and how jealousy can lead to corrupt and sinful activities. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, we don't really know out much about Gertrude. Throughout this play, Gertrude explores the elements of her sexuality, it is seen as a normal thing for a woman to do, and as a woman she is very much in control.
The play explores why Gertrude may have wished to collude with someone for her husbands murder, a theme missing from Hamlet, but we see answers through the eyes of the vivid and colourful imagination of Howard Barker.