By Narelle Wood
Hamlet would have to be one of my favourite Shakespearean tragedies so I was intrigued to see how Bell Shakespeare reinvented the story of Denmark’s demise in this new production.
If you are not familiar with Hamlet’s story, it’s a classic tale of treason, incest, revenge and eventual madness. Throw in a few sightings of a royal ghost, the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’, a sword fight and an extremely high body count, and you have the tragic but highly entertaining tale. The more contemporary setting of the play allowed for some clever use of technology for parts of the plot, but the costuming at times might have been well suited to the 1960’s. This means Bell Shakespeare once again accomplished what it is so good at: highlighting the timeless nature of Shakespeare. This could well have been set in any era and still the themes of betrayal, love, grief and regret are still relevant.
Under Damien Ryan’s direction, the cast found the humour and lewdness often missed in many performances of Shakespeare’s tragedies. As a result the performance was dynamic and captivating from start to finish. The casting was impressive, with many members playing more than one character, a lofty task given the very heavy dialogue in parts. Ophelia (Matilda Ridgway) was appropriately tormented, with Ridgway striking a nice balance between grief and insanity. Josh McConville’s portrayal of an angry, vengeful and grief-stricken Hamlet was extremely impressive. In fact McConville’s Hamlet was so complex that it is difficult to classify in any definitive way what type of Hamlet he played, except for one of his own making.
There was not one element in this production that did not work. The sets (designer Alicia Clements) were exquisite but simple. The lighting (Matt Cox) seemed to be a character all of its own, and the scarce use of soundtrack (Steve Francis) was only noticeable in that it added to the often eerie atmosphere.
If you are new to Shakespeare, or not sure whether you’re a fan, Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be a good choice to start with. It was enthralling from first word until the last silence.
Venue: The Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Until July 25th
Tickets: Prices range from $49 – $79