Reviewed by Frank Barnes


By William Shakespeare (sort of)
Directed by Simon Stone
Belvoir Theatre

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.

Super Discount

Back to Back Theatre
Directed by Bruce Gladwin
Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre
Wharf 1

Back to Back Theatre is a company of actors with disabilities based in Geelong. It devises and presents contemporary theatre and this production was a rare chance for us in Sydney to see its work. When the show was originally advertised as part of the STC subscription season it was called "Laser Beak Man" and I suspect the development process led to it becoming Super Discount. The play became a play about the actors devising the play they were to perform.

Mark Dean, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Brian Tilley and David Woods, the only actor without a known disability, present a play within a play about a super hero. This gave us a funny and ultimately moving hour of wonderful theatre. One has to be careful not to patronise in these circumstances, these actors demonstrate how they are not held back by the lack of some abilities. These are intelligent people who are performers. They use different abilities to tell the story. Some of the humour comes from the need to repeat actions over and over and David Woods also does the extraordinary by appearing to have a disability.

The only disappointment was the lack of audience. The show garnered great reviews which would ordinarily mean full houses but I suspect our phobias might extend to disabilities.

Whoops! The Wharf Revue 2013

Written and Directed by Jonathan Biggins, Drew
Forsyth and Phillip Scott
Wharf 1
Sydney Theatre Company

Every year I say this is the best Revue yet and it is. This year Phil Scott is taking a rest from performing but appears on screen and is ably replaced on the piano by Andrew Worboys. They are joined by Amanda Bishop who gives a fitting and funny farewell to Julia Gillard and Simon Burke who captures Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott so perfectly it might suggest there is not a lot of difference between them.

Everyone is targeted in this show, from the Prime Minister to Annabelle Crabb. There are so many highlights and virtually no low moments. There’s the Dalai Lama, the Arab Spring and the National Rifle Association. They even skewer the recent performance of the Sydney Theatr Company's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Wizard of Oz is a fitting finale to a clever show.

When the revue started they almost pasted it together but it has become an annual hit for the Sydney Theatre Company and a certain theatrical sophistication has been added. The sound and video by David Bergman and design by Barry Searle are major assets. Do yourself a favour and get a ticket.

Frank Barnes is retired and looking forward to John Doyle’s Vere and Waiting for Godot with Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh.