Thursday, May 14, 2009


HARLOS PRODUCTIONS present HAMLET at the Bondi Pavilion.

HAMLET directed by David Ritchie for Harlos Productions has a small company of 8 actors playing, in a well edited text, a number of responsibilities. There are two scheduled actors to play Hamlet; Angela Bauer and Damien Ryan. This is a very lucid and slow unwinding of the text. It’s energy is gently expositional and ideal for students studying the play. I attended a performance of Damien Ryan as Hamlet. The performance is intelligent and clear. Re-assuring. There is great personable charm but it is a little too "held", controlled, and lacks the dramatic urgency of "discovery". Each moment and speech is "presented", rather than experienced as an expression of the needs of the dramatic moment of the events of the story and so lacks the vital energy that may lead to an audience’s transportation into the world of Denmark, where a ghostly figure has appeared demanding revenge for a most foul crime: regicide.

All of the actors are well prepared and assured and clear, it is just that the production lacks theatrical urgency. The best moments, for what I was looking for in the evening’s storytelling, occurred between Hamlet and Gertrude in the bedroom scene. Gertraud Ingeborg had an urgency and desperation about her character’s problems, and seemed to confront Damien Ryan with some real options to deal with. Another kind of vital life ignited, briefly, on the stage: the passionate dilemma between a mother and son in times of great stress.

The setting of the play in "an imaginary Denmark" with the contemporary right/neo-Nazi iconography does not seem to impact too much on the production and the choice of costume (Ailsa Paterson) should, as in the STC production of THE CRUCIBLE, encourage much discussion among the target audience as to its usefulness.

This is the third production that I have recently seen that have had young audiences as their principal target. The students who attend any of these production seem to me to be well served and will have quite a lot of stimulation to their studies. The RICHARD III at CarriageWorks is, as well, quite outstanding theatre for any audience.

Now playing until 30 May. Book by phone: 02 9958 8525, fax: 02 9357 6853 or email:


Jilli said...

Thanks for your blog. My response to this show is quite different to your’s. Ain't it grand!?! Let the debate begin.

This was one of the best Hamlets [as opposed to ‘Hamlet’s] I've seen.

Perhaps our different response is accounted for by the the lead performer settling in since you saw the show [they did have a reduced rehearsal time with two Hamlets after all] but this week I found Mr Ryan to be an exceptional Hamlet.

The clarity you mentioned was there but also a spontaneity, wit and emotional power. It felt utterly new. In a play I’ve known well for almost 20 years, his performance illuminated exciting details and explored a massive breadth of humanity and the complex trials of existence. This was one of the most satisfying individual performances I've seen.

I say ‘individual performances’ because aside from two or three solid support players I thought the production was quite poorly executed.

Mr Richie was constantly beginning his exit before he'd finished his lines and in one scene showed contempt for both his fellow actors and the audience by obviously 'checking out' the audience.

I’ve seen this actor halt a performance mid-show to castigate an audience he felt was inattentive so perhaps he could hear paper rustling as the students took notes, perhaps they were chatting. I couldn't hear any disturbance but either way this was a low moment in his work for me.

His work as the ghost was effective - where he was on mic, seated for much of the role and thus most still - but not removing his Ghostly make-up, especially his lipstick, did lend an odd campness to his fey, leather-clad doubling of Claudius, a quality exaggerated by his incessant physical illustration of ‘the main image’ of each line. I don’t think that’s what Shakespeare meant by ‘suit the action to the word’.

Ms Ingeborg seems to me to have an inarticulate physicality as well. Her elbows at her sides and her forearms thrust downwards at 45 degrees, palms up, is my dominant memory of her physical work, and when this is combined with her often unusual vocal stress placement her performance was often unclear.

continued below

Jilli said...

Now, where was I?...ah yes.

As you point out, the costuming will no doubt stimulate much discussion with the audience. I felt the use of the swastika was altogether too casual and unjustified. If you want to casually suggest oppressive authoritarianism then pretty much any symbol on an armband when combined with militaristic saluting will suggest such a regime – and let’s face it the device was tokenistic in its application. However, to use that very potent symbol of evil to give a general wash of villainy to the world of the play was sloppy and offensive. That said, Roz and Guil’s final saluting was a disturbing image of people gradually compromised by a corrupting regime.

Nazi symbolism aside, the costuming was not well thought through in the opening court scene. When Claudius and Gertrude are advising Hamlet that his wearing black clothes is inappropriate it is probably best not to have EVERY character on stage wearing black from head to foot. [Just remembered Ophelia was there in her red skirt.]

Mr Haft was a steadfast Horatio and, especially in relationship with Hamlet, was given a commendable level of nuance, as were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, both when working with each other and with Hamlet, although this pair did occasionally lapse into illustrating emotion and thought rather than trusting that the clarity of their performance would be felt by the audience. The Gravediggers were lively and very amusing and Polonius was effective.

Like the characters mentioned above the conception of Laertes and Ophelia contained interesting ideas but these were executed with an excess of demonstrating of intention and emotional state and I eventually found Ophelia’s journey incoherent.

But astride all of this was a central performance which I will savour for many years to come and which on its own made this a must-see experience for anyone interested in theatre and especially Shakespeare.

Just imagine if Mr Ryan had been cast last year in place of Mr Cowell. What could have happened then?

Kevin Jackson said...

GREAT. Thanks for the insight. I concur.

Kevin J.

Anonymous said...

I took my students to see this performance at the Bondi Pav on Wednesday night.

I concur with Jilli's response to Damian Ryan's performance of Hamlet. I have taught this text for a number of years and was genuinely excited by the revelations that his beautifully played character gave to me. The students could understand him(as much as an elusive character should be understood)and his swings from humour to despair to anger - a range difficult to achieve, is believable and commendable. He is the best Hamlet I have ever seen.

As for the rest... The Nazi arm bands didn't seem to have much relevance and the modernisation of the clothing, weapons (guns in the opening scene and transport (we hear motors running when Laertes departs) doesn't really work for me since the final scene is old fashioned sword fighting. The concept doesn't seem consistent enough.

On the other hand, the dexterous use of chairs as props was very clever and efficient. It really worked. The strange microphone for the ghost which made his voice appear other worldly was really good too, though the ghost's trousers seemed a little mundane to me. Where was his warlike appearance as per text?

I liked Claudius and Gertrude as the leather clad monarchs. Claudius had the look of Scar from Lion king and the queen was attractive and moving. That said, my students didn't like them much - they found Claudius monotonous and Gertrude unintelligible. The students LOVED the Ros and Guil duo who played many comic roles (sometimes upstaging, to the joy of the school kids) and serious roles too. LAertes was very well executed and markedly different from the actor's other roles.
Ophelia was very pretty and quite likeable but lacked in acting skills a little. Who could top Helena Bonham Carter's Ophelia?

There was plenty for the kids to enjoy in the bawdy humour of Ros and Guil and the play is very well suited to elucidate the plot and themes of the play.

For me, as for Jilli, in spite of the reservations I've made, this was an incredible experience because of Damian's Hamlet. There were little sections that I had never noticed before that assumed a new significance to me and linked the story together seamlessly. What an actor. This is a production well worth seeing.