By William Shakespeare (sort of)
Directed by Simon Stone
I say this play is by Shakespeare (sort of) as with a running time of just over two hours it is a highly edited version of one of The Bard’s most famous plays. I must have seen the play at least 10 times and remember great lead performances by Brendan Cowell and Richard Roxburgh. I will now add to this list Toby Schmitz and I would love to see what Ewen Leslie does with it when he takes over on November 17. To like or not to like, that was the question. I expected to hate this Hamlet but with a few reservations, I loved it.
As you enter the theatre the stage has a black floor and is surrounded by black, velvet curtains. Hamlet is sitting on the side and opposite him is the ghost of his father, the King (Anthony Phelan). There is a grand piano beautifully played by Luke Byrne. As the play progresses each of the many ghosts joins the King on stage and connects with Hamlet. Gertrude, the Queen and Hamlet’s mother is now with the late king’s brother (John Gaden). Other characters are Greg Stone as Polonius, Thomas Campbell as Laertes and Nathan Lovejoy as Many More. Time and scene changes are indicated by beautiful sounding counter tenor, Maximilian Reibl, who simply moves from entrance to exit. Ophelia (Emily Barclay) wears a little girl dress in Act 1 and the extraordinary Robyn Nevin wears what looks like her wedding dress.
The play is done with wonderful puppets, operated by Hamlet and designed by Bridget Dolan. They are brilliant caricatures and are very, very risqué. Act 2 is done on a stage that is now all white which contrasts with the blood that is building as character after character is killed. There are many highlights, among them the suicide scene of Ophelia. The baby dress is a wonderful clue to the journey she takes.
Many will hate this production but if you are open-minded you might just enjoy it, like the many who gave it a standing ovation. The final five minutes are a big problem as the cast stand in a circle with blood pouring from them. Knowledge of the play helps but it is the feature I have heard most criticism about. Lighting by Benjamin Cisterne and costumes by Mel Page complement the great stage design of Ralph Myers.