Hamlet | Barking Gecko Theatre Company and WAAPALeft – James Sweeny and Rose Riley. Photo – Luke Thompson

Another reinvention of Hamlet has emerged from Perth’s creative sector, and this one comes to us from Barking Gecko Theatre’s Artistic Director John Sheedy, in association with WAAPA’s 3rd Year Acting, Production and Design students. Sheedy has placed Hamlet in a psychiatric hospital, or psychiatric ward of a hospital, presumably because Hamlet pretends to be crazy and Ophelia actually goes crazy. Sheedy gave himself the arduous task of trying to make it all work in this setting; it may have seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, just as with so many other Shakespeare reinventions, the beauty of the piece was lost underneath so much contrivance. Rather than really delving deep into the rich text, which requires a surgeon’s care to dissect and translate, Sheedy has decided to paint over it in great swaths, and uses directing trickery to replace thoughtful storytelling. Rather than the staging and the reinterpretation being a means to an end, they become an end in themselves. 

You don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar to know that his work has been done a disservice when a director decides that he or she can tell the story of Hamlet better by setting it in on Mars, or in a submarine, or in ancient Outer Mongolia. You could even forgive a few liberties of time and place, if they are not too overwrought and don’t get in the way of the story. But when every single moment of the already complex plot is forced to give way to a structural device, the story is lost. And we are compelled to scrutinise the director’s choices, rather than be carried away on a journey by the characters’ choices.

Unfortunately, this seemingly talented group of young actors (the young women in particular) became puppets in this director’s elaborate ruse, rather than being given room to breathe and live in their characters. Grace Smibert as Polonius stood alone in her ability to draw an authentic parallel between the original character/text and Sheedy’s reinvention. One by one, each actor slipped into the trap of delivering dialogue that sounded good, but carried very little intention or apparent understanding. The director seemed more concerned with coming up with business than with shaping his actors’ performances.

The technical elements were also problematic. Although the space was visually pleasing at the outset, the set (Patrick James Howe) being a stark, sterile hospital lobby, it soon became unforgiving and inflexible. The flickering fluorescent lighting (Tegan Evans) flooded the stage and audience with a flat light that did two regrettable things: it washed away the capability of having stage pictures with any depth, and it illuminated the wandering attentions of the audience. Sound designer James Luscombe chose to put in those big loud rumbling noises that are very much in vogue at the moment, to coincide with dramatic climaxes. 

This production proves that you can take the Hamlet out of Denmark…but you probably shouldn’t.

Barking Gecko Theatre Company and WAAPA present
by William Shakespeare

Director John Sheedy

Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre | 180 Hammersley Road, Subiaco
Dates: 16 – 22 March 2013
Tickets: $41 – $31.50
Bookings: Ticketek www.ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012

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