Adelaide Fringe Theatre Review: Hamlet

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-51-36-pmThe Raw Shakespeares Project: Hamlet poster

What: The Raw Shakespeare Project: HAMLET

Where: Brick+Mortar Creative

Who: Russell Slater (Director), Tegan Jefferies (Stage Manager/Tech)

When: Friday 17 February

“Whether ‘tis it nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them” (3.1. 56-60)?

An overtly gay female Hamlet (Leah Anderson) grapples with these notions of the self. This Raw Shakespeare production deals with themes of gender, sexuality and religious devotion in a way that I haven’t seen in a performance of Hamlet. The acting of Laertes (Aarod Vawser), Polonius (Damien White) and Ophelia (Ellie McPhee) in particular stand out in this production; real tears, self-reflective powerful moments and an intimate use of space by director and seasoned performer Russell Slater make this production a force to be reckoned with.

Set in twelfth century Denmark, but on a stage intimately modern in design, Hamlet works on multiple levels. One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, this production follows tradition yet carves its own framework for a successful blend of old and new, a synthesis of the redemptive qualities of Catholicism and the terror of annihilation. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark; Hamlet is haunted by the death of her father, and her crazed love for Ophelia creates diplomatic strain and strife.

The use of props is minimal but effective. The select pendants and books that do feature as plot points or set dressing also find smooth integration in the actors’ performances. For example, a portrait of Hamlet’s father hangs around her neck, a book which Hamlet becomes absorbed in urges her actions onwards, and love letters between her and Ophelia are scandalous tokens of affection that reoccur throughout. What’s more, a large heraldic cross dominates the background and its presence is a constant reminder of the absolute quality of death itself. Hamlet seems to recognise this divide: the death of her father is a constant motivating force in her search for material meaning in a world that doesn’t quite seem capable of containing her.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-51-53-pmLeah Anderson as Hamlet. Photo credit: Raw Shakespeare Project

Beyond the stage, the audience is seated in such a way so as to make our presence seem otherworldly; characters brush past us crossing the aisles in-scene while we watch like voyeurs of an afterlife to which they’re not yet privy. The physicality of the performances captures the imagination of the original script, with movements that are at once practised but deliberately coarse. If I have one criticism, however, it’s that some lines were nervously spoken too fast or mumbled in excitement.

The costumes too are remarkably true to tradition yet bear notable modern quirks. Hamlet, of course, sports a black outfit. The colours throughout the play often subtly reflecting character motivations and personality types. Horatio, for example, dons a pure blue dress, one which suggests her affection and pure friendship for Hamlet. As the play progresses some characters such as Claudius (Slater), lose their clothing in symbolic animalistic acts that suit their personality. The absence of clothes coupled with the brooding muscular nature of Claudius designate a return to the abject quality of violent and unfiltered masculinity. His madness and anger is focalised through Slater’s unique and powerful performance.

As Hamlet and Ophelia’s love for each other grows more intense, the choice of a gay Hamlet deepens the audience’s empathy and makes the performance a breath of gay, fresh air. The crescendo of the last act – Ophelia committing suicide after being shunned by Hamlet, takes on a poignancy hardly ever translated in amateur Hamlet productions. Guildenstern (Aarod Vawser) fulfils the role as the well-timed comedic relief for the play. He delivers an interesting array of characters, such as Laertes and the Villain, that while not strictly true to the original script, produces much needed relief of tension and subsequent action throughout the acts.

All in all, Slater’s Hamlet provides a cathartic release of tension aided by some solid acting. Act III in particular struck a chord with me, with one specific line that found resonance and defined the mood and nature of the play: “the dread of something after death; the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” echoes the conscience of every character’s preoccupation with the afterlife and beyond. All the main actors managed to capture this iconic Shakespeare play, while managing to create something uniquely original through changes to the gender, sexuality, and location of the play and its inhabitants.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Dylan Rowen

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