Friday, 11 May 2007

Hamlet, Eagle’s Nest Theatre, May 11, 2007

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Eagle’s Nest Theatre
Northcote Town Hall, session times alternate with The Birds, until May 20, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 11, 2007

Performing Shakespeare requires considerable skill, insight and creative interpretation in a contemporary world. 

Hamlet is one of the most complex of his plays and needs a deft directorial hand and an exceptional talent in the title role. This production, despite all its best efforts, has neither.

The cast seems to be a mixture of professional and amateur actors, most of whom lack the technique to penetrate the meaning or poetry of the text or to deliver the dialogue convincingly. This is not to say that there is no merit in some of the performances.

James Adler, as Hamlet, is better when on full voice in his more impassioned moments such as in the final scene when he is physically engaged in the sword fight with Laertes (Jude Hansen) and his vocal expression is stronger.

His earlier interpretation of Hamlet’s grief, feigned madness and private moral struggle relies too heavily on an internalised and often inaudible vocal quality - a devoicing. This choice diminishes the intensity of Hamlet’s moral dilemma and reduces him to a muttering and indecisive churl.

Bruce Woolley, as Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, finds some emotional range in the character, shifting from strutting and rutting newly crowned King to, as is revealed in his soliloquy, a guilt-ridden, fearful and frightened coward who fears repercussions of his murder of his brother, the former King and Hamlet’s father.

Claudius is recently married to Gertrude. Liz McColl seems under-confident in the role of the passionate older bride. Her voice is weak and the character lacks the requisite dignity and grace. Phil Zachariah captures something of the dottiness of old Polonius, although he overplays his mumbling at times.

Aimee Neistat misses the layers of Ophelia’s ravings and Sam Spalding is miscast and out of his depth in the important role of Horatio. Hansen is suitably vengeful as Laertes but is a little melodramatic.

Director, Janine Cowie, has bitten off more than she can chew with this play and her ensemble is too inexperienced to handle its complexities. The staging is clumsy, the cast stand and deliver far too much and find little layering to the characters or their relationships. It is tempting to stop listening to such beautiful speeches being poorly played.

We commend companies doing the classics – but please, do them well or not at all.

By Kate Herbert

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