Directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Presented by Montague Basement
107 Railway Parade, Erskineville
Season: 1 - 5 December
Hamlet is a tortured and tragic soul whose madness and musings have kept audiences guessing for years. His supposed ‘every man’ qualities forge Hamlet as an ideal figure to be the subject of theatrical reworking, maintaining profound intrigue through a plethora of contemporary interpretations. Montague Basement’s production, directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari, thrusts forward a moody and undoubtedly mad Hamlet, fraught with teenage angst. Circling this madness is Claudius, Polonius, Horatio and Ophelia. The script is reworked so that scenes with the omitted characters are either removed, or performed by the included characters in their place. The audience is left to observe a play fixated on madness and nostalgia.
Hamlet is a play that toys with the notion of the supernatural. Commencing with the overbearing visitation by the ghost of Hamlet’s deceased father, Hamlet is forced to continually consider the consequences of his actions through purgatory and afterlife. As an audience member, you want to be tantalised by the question of Hamlet’s madness and be able to consider the potential for the ghost figure to be a legitimate visitation. In this show, the ghost is depicted through a voice and an image on multiple TV screens across the stage, a unique and effective idea. However the blatant madness of Hamlet, played by Christian Byers, removes some of the ambiguity from the portrayal, discounting the element of self-reflexive reasoning as to the authenticity of what we see on stage. Byer’s ability to convey an ambiguous and complex Hamlet is hindered by the omission of his relationship with Gertrude, as well as his love for Ophelia and friendship with Horatio. When we can’t see Hamlet in a more humane state, it becomes difficult to sympathise with the tragedy that surely befalls him. Byer does benefit from the freedom afforded him through a contemporary portrayal of Hamlet, as he is liberated to experiment with the humour in the events. In a text that is naturally funny, Byer manages to bring this to the fore. Likewise, Patrick Morrow as Polonius explores the comedic element of Shakespeare’s words transposed into a modern context, with great audience appreciation. Through Lulu Howes’ portrayal of Ophelia, her undoing struck me as the greatest tragedy, as the machinations of the men around her precipitate her downfall. Aberrance from the original play in her death is immensely affective, evoking a gut-wrenching response from the audience. Howes’ initially understated depiction of Ophelia serves to heighten the contrast between her staunch resistance to Hamlet’s behaviour, and then her eventual unravelling. Brief interaction with the audience is deeply engaging during some of the pinnacle moments of the play.
Set design, also by Lusty-Cavallari, is immediately striking. Integral to the design concept is use of multiple TVs framing the performance space. Projected through the screens is not only the ghost figure, but also some nostalgic cultural references to Hamlet – critically, scenes from The Lion King, which involves some delightful media design work. PACT Theatre is a malleable theatre space, which in itself can present both advantages and difficulties. Use of lamps across the front of the stage is a visually engaging choice, however the light is often too dim to sufficiently illuminate the actors’ faces – a disappointment to lose some of the performers’ work to darkness.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet has proved to engage audiences for centuries. Montague Basement’s production is yet another interpretation of the character and associated events which sheds an alternative light on the work. Through continual re-examination and re-interpretation, we are able to grapple with some of the veins that stream through the human consciousness, gaining insight about ourselves as individuals and of society as a whole.