British actor-director Kenneth Branagh has made his mark with his zesty adaptations of such Shakespearean classics as "Henry V." Here he romps through "Hamlet," setting the mood for this slapdash, surprisingly merry comedy with one of Noel Coward's irresistibly witty songs.
"Why - I sometimes wonder - must the show go on," sings the glib Coward. In this case you
do wonder as a troupe of "spectacularly unemployed" actors struggle to put on a Christmas
production of "Hamlet" in the boondocks. With a drag queen playing Queen Gertrude and a
hopelessly near-sighted Ophelia the show threatens to fold at first. But the mixed bag of
actors bond together and even Joan Collins shows a flair for snappy show biz repartee as an
agent who, needless to say, lacks the Christmas spirit. The characters prove to be
endearingly human and the dialogue is wonderfully zany. For example the play's hopelessly
indecisive production designer offers this critique after watching an early rehearsal
session. "I thought it was extraordinary and also in a strange way banal."
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