Steven Mitchell Wright’s Director’s Notes for The Danger Ensemble are sparse. The director basically sets up the premise for the work (an ensemble of actors electing to perform William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the apocalypse approaches) and little else. It’s a strangely comprehensive introduction to the work. As the audience leaves tonight’s showing, it becomes apparent that to discuss the work overly much almost reduces or cheapens the experience of engaging with it.
If that sounds like Wright has perpetrated some kind of con or fraud on the audience that does not stand up to scrutiny, rest assured that is not the case. Certainly, there is a great deal that could be discussed about The Hamlet Apocalypse. It may seem motivated by a simple (and faintly whimsical) conceit but the union of meticulous technique and creative artistry embodied within the production could (and probably should) be discussed for years.
As an example, the work often relies on a handful of techniques most frequently associated with German theatre-maker Bertolt Brecht – techniques specifically designed to divorce an audience from their emotions – but actually uses those clinical techniques to create moments of terrifying emotional vulnerability. Dave Sleswick’s break from the character of Hamlet to rush a desperate ‘I love you’ to Noa Rotem (playing Ophelia) in the midst of the infamous ‘get thee to a nunnery’ speech (and the ensuing aftermath) is nothing short of devastating – even though it shouldn’t be.
The work’s visual character is a triumph of both technical ingenuity and creative vision. Employing little more than sand, lighting and an austere industrial set, Wright and his ensemble create images and vistas that so transcend their technical limitations as to be guaranteed a permanent position within the memories of their audience. The death of Hamlet’s father – consisting of little more than a handful of dust dropped onto performer Mark Hill from on high – is truly haunting.
There are so many aspects of the work that one could dissect – from the way it veers between tableaus of farcical comedy to moments of visceral, destructive beauty to the beautifully realised arc of chaos the work follows as the apocalypse draws near. One could spend hours alone debating the distinctive choices Wright has made in the staging of Hamlet itself (Mark Hill’s portrayal of Hamlet’s father a definite departure from traditional airings) or, if truly necessary, what the premise of the work all means in the end. You just shouldn’t – at least, not right away.
You see, The Danger Ensemble have not created a work that fails to withstand scrutiny. They’ve created something that ultimately transcends it. Yes, all of these wondrous aspects of performance can be found within the production but they are legitimately mere component parts of a whole so much larger and more remarkable than the reductive analysis of this reviewer will ever be likely to capture. If that sounds overly romantic, think back to any significant creative work in your life – a song, a book, a poem – and try to explain why it is remarkable. The Hamlet Apocalypse is similarly impossible to capture in print.
Speaking as frankly and as openly as circumstances permit, I know this review seems like an undisciplined gush of sentiment. Honestly, I wouldn’t have even thought it even possible to create a theatrical work which justified this kind of praise. Such is The Hamlet Apocalypse. I implore you to see it immediately.
La Boite Indie and The Danger Ensemble present
The Hamlet Apocalypse
Director Steven Mitchell Wright
Venue: La Boite's Roundhouse Theatre
Dates: 24 August – 10 September, 2011
Times: Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm; Thursday – Saturday 7.30pm; Matinee Sunday 28 August 5pm (Green Sunday)
Tickets: $28 – $20
Bookings: 07 3007 8600 | www.laboite.com.au