Monday, 25 July 2011

Unpack my heart with words: MTC's Hamlet

Photo by Jeff Busby

 Every time I see Hamlet, I want to write a lot about how this production compares to all the other stage and film versions I have seen. Structure changes, cuts, line readings, performances - every time I see something new, unpacking new subtext from the heart of Shakespeare's play. But I'd like to keep this brief.

Ewen Leslie researched the role by watching as many film versions of the character as he could, which is the antithesis of how actors typically work. As far as I can tell, most would rather not be accused of being too influenced by notable performances past. But with his all in approach, Leslie seems to have steeled himself against the possibility of echoing an old performance by finding a fresh angle on Hamlet - a Prince of Denmark who is tormented, troubled and ready to have fun while riding on the edge of insanity. From playing with a gun while he questions, "To be or not to be" to dismissing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with air-quotes around "friends" to devastating moments with mother Gertrude and love Ophelia - where I actually felt real emotion for and from the character, since his soliloquies can often keep me at a remove.

Simon Phillips' production is modern-day set, with laptops and listening devices, dropped inside a mansion of glass and sharp corners, where the images of the characters are reflected in multiple planes, making ghosts of them all from time to time. Rotating on a revolve, the forward motion that is already part of the text becomes more like a freight train, sending the characters faster and faster toward their dramatic and tragic ends. Shaun Gurton's set is multi-layered and ever changing, even though we can peer through it much of the time, watching as characters listen in or stand and watch in awe.

Composer Ian McDonald creates an almost thriller-like mood as the set turns and the actors pace from scene to scene, but it's a restrained score, thankfully. Too much thriller might have overblown the drama that is already there in the play.

Special mention of the incredible Robert Menzies, whose performance as the Ghost was one of the most mesmerising I have seen; his appearance as the Player King probably makes him the best actor to ever play that part, perhaps

And an actor to watch: Eryn Jean Norvill, whose Ophelia practically stole the show each time she was on stage, particularly the moment where Ophelia must shine - her flowers here replaced with the flotsam and jetsam of her relationship with Hamlet.

A notable highlight of my theatre-going year.

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