HamletOnce again, it seems that QTC have opted to ‘play it safe’. Their latest production is the age old theatre classic, Hamlet. Arguably, this is a play that can never be worn out. Its main themes are always significant; the complex characters are always engaging and the language is always provocative. It is a play with an eternal life. However a performance is only ever ephemeral, and as such the performance needs to communicate the power of the written word in a way that remains in the minds of the audience.  Hamlet as a play is brilliant. Yet QTC’s Hamlet as a performance, while good, doesn’t quite live up to its awesome expectations. 

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, written by theatrical genius William Shakespeare, was originally written and performed in 1600, and has continued to find success onstage ever since. This being so, I have no doubt that QTC will experience a very successful season of their Hamlet. It tells the tragic story of a prince doomed to revenge his father’s murder. With many beautiful life questioning soliloquies, and scenes involving heartbroken lovers, incestuous scandals, political violence and revengeful duels, the play concludes with most characters’ deaths and consequently a cleansing of corruption.

Hamlet is perhaps one of the most complex characters ever written. His vast range of emotional qualities combined with his fiercely questioning intellect makes him a formidable challenge for an actor. As such, because he is so difficult to play, I believe the portrayal of ‘how Hamlet should be’ really comes down to personal choice. So while I didn’t particularly find Cameron Goodall’s rendition of Hamlet astounding, I do credit his attempt and find his interpretation interesting. Goodall plays Hamlet as an almost bipolar character – he goes from sobbing, whining ‘woe is me’ lows during in his solitude to flamboyant, comical inebriation in his feigned madness, and doesn’t seem to show much range in between, except in his honest confessions with Horatio (Daniel Murphy). His love for Ophelia seems so cold and non-existent and it almost comes as a surprise when he moans over her grave exactly how much he loved her. Goodall’s Hamlet is a 16th century adolescent ‘emo’ child.  His interpretation is agreeable but not outstanding. The same can be said of the other actors in the production. With the possible exception of Dennis Olsen, who played a particularly delightful and quaint rendition of Polonius (certainly I have never found the character more likable), the actors were good, their interpretations sound, but there was nothing overly impressive or awe-inspiring.

The set is a massive circular fortress, designed by Bruce McKinven to reflect the inherent themes of war and oppression. Hamlet’s spiraling mind is impressively complemented by the heavy weight that this large structure imposes. The actors and audience alike appear so small in comparison to the set that one cannot help but feel the magnanimous ideas that Shakespeare was trying to explore in his play. Its aesthetic is both modern and antique, setting the play in a non-distinct time period – a safe move as it allows the play to still remain true to its original while relating to its present audience.   

The same intent was evident in the costuming, which were also designed to symbolize the characters’ status. While this non-distinct period theory may have worked for the set design, I was uneasy with the sort of ‘patchwork quilt’ appearance of the costumes – it was never quite a definite suit or a definite gown, or even a definite beggers’ costume. They all had something else added to them: a cut from another period or a rainbow striped undershirt that really stood out. It projected indecisiveness.  Thankfully, the performers were not reliant on their costumes to display their characters.

QTC’s Hamlet is a good production. It has all the elements of a well-made play. Skillful actors, impressive set, effective lighting, dramatic tension, special effects and of course concludes with a strikingly spontaneous looking sword fight. It’s good, but not great. However it is certainly worth seeing for the simple pleasure of witnessing a work by one of theatre’s great minds. Shakespeare is meant to be enjoyable. Thankfully, this production at least lives up to that.

Queensland Theatre Company
By William Shakespeare

Venue: Playhouse QPAC
Dates: 25 April - 12 May 2007
Times: Tue @ 6.30pm, Wed to Sat @ 7.30pm; Matinees Wed @ 1.00pm & Sat @ 2.00pm
Tickets: $26 - $58
Booking: Qtix

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