Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare’s most frequently performed play, was a risky undertaking for DramaSoc, but it seems to have paid off. Kosi Carter’s adaptation of the play presented Hamlet as a girl, and Ophelia her lesbian lover, which was seamlessly written into the script, and made sense in the wider context of the story. However, at times the way in which this particular social issue was viewed by the characters was a little unbelievable for the setting of 1910s Denmark.
The audience entered to thick smoke, creepy music (cellist Sarah Querée and violinist Peter Dewey) and a watchman with a candle as the only source of light, effectively setting the scene for the events about to unfurl. However, as the play progressed it was noted that the musicians were rarely used, and their fidgeting and modern clothes distracted and detracted somewhat from the main events on stage.
As the lights went up we were presented with the stage, a simple affair with grey brickwork on the walls, some velvet cloth to hide backstage and two chairs, also draped with this same fabric. The carpeting was most confusing – the messy looking multi-coloured affair seemed to stick to everything, including the actors’ clothes and faces. The theme of simplicity continued throughout the design of the play, with hair, makeup and costumes all erring on the side of caution. Set in the 1910s, the costumes had a distinctly Victorian look to them, with the females wearing long skirts and white blouses with identical shoes, while the men wore variations on suits. There were certain roles that had costumes reflecting their character, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with their cravats and pocket squares, but mostly they were believable and simple. Similarly, with hair and makeup, there was not much variation, sticking to plaited hair for the women, and slicked back hair for the men. For the death scenes, the use of fake blood was done well, and thoughtful details were considered, such as bloodstains on Ophelia’s shirt from where thorns had scratched her. Overall, I would say the design was trying to be simple and effective, but fell slightly short and was vaguely dull, bringing nothing to the drama of the play.
The theme of simplicity continued throughout the design of the play, with hair, makeup and costumes all erring on the side of caution
The casting of the play was very well done, with the characters coming through strongly in the look and presence of the actor, especially in the portrayal of Claudius’s (Jared More) evil undertones, Ophelia’s (Jess Corner) gleeful innocence and downward spiral to madness, and the ghost of King Hamlet’s (Max Manning) domineering presence. All of the actors were very good at maintaining a constant yet subtle stage presence, with the distinct ability to really listen and react to what was going on around them, despite the fact there were long stretches of them being on stage but in the background. While at times the acting came off a little over-rehearsed and forced, overall the quality was good, and it was impressive how naturally the Shakespearean lines seemed to come.
It must be noted that Hamlet’s (Katie Smith) performance was impressive, especially given that she was on stage for most of the 2 hours 45 minutes of the play and had 37% of the lines. Smith excelled at the subtleties of her character, with slight facial expressions and body language that made her acting believable, and although elements of her performance did come off a little stiff, she made this version of Hamlet her own. Special mention must also go to the performances of Polonius (Richard Spears) and Gertrude (Hannah Eggleton). As soon as Polonius appeared on stage you could feel the audience respond positively, with him causing continual spurts of laughter throughout the play. He transitioned well from the comedic old man to the concerned father, his performance really adding flair to the entire show. Similarly, Eggleton managed to successfully portray a fully rounded character, with different elements being shown as the play developed. To begin, she was fairly dislikable, with an air of snobbery and detachment from her daughter. However, slowly, as events progressed, she became a more sympathetic character, and you saw her concern turn to sorrow and then despair.
Smith excelled at the subtleties of her character, with slight facial expressions and body language that made her acting believable, and although elements of her performance did come off a little stiff, she made this version of Hamlet her own.
Carter has created an imaginative telling of one of Shakespeare’s greats, and despite a few minor issues that could be ironed out in later performances, the whole cast and crew gave an enthusiastic performance. Highly recommended, this is one not to miss.
‘Hamlet’, is showing from Thursday 3rd – Sunday 6th March at the Drama Barn. Tickets can be purchased on the YUSU website or at the door.
All photos were provided by Harry Elletson