“WHO’S there?” asks Bernardo. So begins Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s seminal masterpiece. To put the power and passion of this play into context, consider this: Most scholars agree that Shakespeare is mankind’s greatest writer. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom claims 'After Jesus, Hamlet is the most cited figure in Western consciousness.’ If this is the case, it begs the question, is Hamlet the best piece of literature ever written? Now, you can decide.

Hamlet is a behemoth of a play, and is considered by many to be his finest work. This is one of many reasons that Shakespeare at Traquair’s very own Steve Russell chose to tackle it to celebrate the company’s 20th Anniversary.

Its original run time hits the five hour mark. Russell has been working on re-drafting the play for the past 18 months, cutting it down to a manageable two and a quarter hours. Perhaps more impressive than this is the fact that Russell has managed not only to reduce it in length, but to retain the essence of the play, the workings which make it a masterpiece.

The director was first drawn to a vision and a desire to see the play explode in a vibrant array of colours and textures. Due to this, he chose to set it around the time of Waterloo, 1815. To those unfamiliar with the brilliance which is Hamlet, please find a brief synopsis in the hopes it may whet your appetite and lead you to want to witness it brought to life in the wonderfully expressive and atmospheric surroundings of Traquair House.

On a gloomy winter night, the ghost of King Hamlet walks Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet to see the ghost of the dead King, who tells him, 'thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand, of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d: Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin.’ As the ghost vanishes with the breaking dawn, he orders Hamlet to seek revenge.

Despite his devotion, Prince Hamlet is contemplative and thoughtful, and thus does he delay, entering instead into a deep melancholy and the image of madness. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are employed to watch him, and despite believing Ophelia the cause, there is no evidence of this following Claudius’ spying.

During the 'play within the play,’ when the actors re-enact what Hamlet believes has happened, Claudius leaves, cementing his guilt. Despite Hamlet happening on Claudius praying – the perfect time to kill him – his doubts prevent him doing so, his soul desperate for more. Following the mistaken murder of Polonius, Claudius orders Hamlet banished to England, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who have sealed orders he is to be put to death. Heartbroken, desolate and broken by grief, Ophelia, embraced by madness, drowns in the river.

Laertes, Polonius’s son, returns to Denmark, and is convinced, by King Claudius, that Hamlet is to blame for the tragedy that is the death of his father and sister. Following an attack by pirates, Hamlet is forced to return to Denmark, upon which Claudius conducts a plan that will use Laertes’ desire for revenge to secure Hamlet’s death.

In a duel complete with poison and treachery, the climax of the play unfolds, and the characters’ lives are shattered in a deluge of bitterness, betrayal and revenge.

Performances are from Wednesday, May 27 to Saturday, May 30 and Wednesday, June 3 to Saturday, June 6.

Tickets are available through the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles, and can also be purchased on the night.

There is a limit of 100 patrons per night.

Tickets cost £8 and £6 for concessions for Wednesday and Thursday’s performances, and £14 and £12 for Friday and Saturday’s performances.