Jun 15, 2008

Bell Shakespeare's Hamlet

How to make words written over 400 years ago appear fresh and interesting to a modern audience, yet not bastardizing them to such an extent that you lose what happened to make them so glorious in the first place. The dilemma, it would appear, facing any company producing Shakespeare in the 21st century. Well, I can attest that Bell Shakespeare's production of Hamlet at the Sydney Opera House succeeds in both delivering the bard's language and also giving the audience a fresh and invigorating interpretation of those words. I can attribute this success to many things, but one man is key. Brendan Cowell. A performance of such intensity and passion, it will live long in your memory.

So to Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. It is Shakespeare's most famous play and also his longest. It is a template for the history of theatre. It encompasses every base emotion and ambition imprisoned in the heart of human nature. A brief synopsis. Hamlet has recently learned of his father's death. The young prince is then visited by the ghost of his father who proceeds to tell that he was a victim of murder and that he should find his murderer and in turn, avenge his death. Hamlet discovers that Claudius, his uncle, was the perpetrator. To further complicate matters, Claudius has married Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. Hamlet is also forming a relationship with Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and sister of Laertes. When Hamlet tries to exact revenge on Claudius, he accidentally kills Polonius. From here the treachery and deception spirals to a sad and deadly conclusion. If you don't know the ending, suffice to say there is a lot of bloodshed. Which would quite possibly be the understatement of the century.

This is a great revival of this historic play. A total artistic triumph. As stated, Cowell is quite stunning as Hamlet. Whilst not owning a classic sounding Shakepeare voice, he manages to impart a blinding charisma and attitude. He creates a character who is vain, confident, cunning, frail, vulnerable, passionate and starkly human. His body movements are graceful and also violent and his emphasis on certain parts of the language are quite revelatory. A virtuoso performance. The entire cast though is quite excellent. Particularly Barry Otto as the obsequious Polonious and Colin Moody as the conniving Claudius. The cast also draws forth the inherent humour that does exist in a dark and driven story. The characters of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are especially great creations. The set is elegant and fitting and the costumes, essentially modern with a 1930s twist, are classy and suitable. As an added bonus, Sarah Blasko is in the cast as a 'player' and she sings in a few sections with the aid of piano. One section of the play allows her to sing a full song with the aid of an accordion. It is a truly touching and beautiful moment, fitting in perfectly with the texture of the play. All round, this production succeeds tremendously, a clear sign that Shakespeare is alive and well in 2008.

'To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;'

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