20 May 2007

Hamlet

Hamlet
Eagle’s Nest Theatre

20 May 2007
Northcote Town Hall


There is no denying that Hamlet is a fabulous story. Eagle's Nest Theatre’s version has been pared down to a tale about a royal family whose shenanigans rival the tabloid stories of our contemporary royals.

Eagle’s Next Theatre is one of Melbourne’s many independent companies. This one was formed with the goal to produce professional independent theatre and ensure schools and communities beyond the central city area have access to the work. Their program of VCE scripts, classics and original works has created a broad and appreciative audience.

This Hamlet concentrates on the family. Fortinbras has been let go, which has created a slightly different, yet beautifully strong ending. There are some original character interpretations. Bruce Woolley's Claudius is forever drunk, and Phil Zachariah’s Polonius is comical and dithery (oh dear, Ophelia/ Oh, Dear Ophelia).

James Adler knows Hamlet. His regular performances of the Danish prince have given him the insight that allows for multiple interpretations. This time his Hamlet is very controlled and constrained. There is method to his feigned madness and Hamlet can clearly see the consequences of his actions. We so wish he could make his world right. I would, however, have liked to see more of Hamlet’s internal struggle made external. Soliloquies were written to show our internal thoughts. These are the thoughts that aren’t constrained by relationships and people watching. They don’t need to be held so close.

The less experienced members of the cast struggled with the language and in consistency. This is the nature of a company that offers opportunity to all performers. It is the director’s decision about how to temper and present performers of vastly different level skill levels.

The direction was uneven. The story was told well, but seemed to have been directed scene by scene, rather than as a whole. Act Two needed much more pace and tension and the staging needed more attention to detail (Claudius could have stopped Gertrude drinking because he was so close to her).

Hamlet is about status and power; within the country, the court and the family. When the design uses velvet, crowns and pewter goblets – it is acknowledging the role of royalty and the hierarchy at play. A travelling player would not touch a prince; a daughter would not sit when her king and father stood. Using character status as an acting/rehearsal technique may have significantly helped the lesser experienced performers. We needed to see the relationships between the characters and how their status and power motivated their actions.

The relationships between some characters were also unclear. I knew Gertrude was fond of Ophelia, but had no idea if she even liked Hamlet, or if she enjoyed being regularly groped by Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seemed to have a different motivation in each scene. Were they there because their best mate Hamlet needed them, because Claudius would kill them if they weren’t there, or because Gertrude had offered them reward? This is all in the text, but was not clear on the stage.

This isn’t a perfect Hamlet, but it tells the story with intelligence and clarity. As such, it is an ideal introduction to anyone who doesn’t know the tale and twists in some original character and plot interpretations for those who can quote along with the cast.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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