Monday, 7 November 2016

Anti-Hamlet, Nov 4, 2016 **1/2

By Mark Wilson, The New Working Group & Theatre Works 
Theatre Works, St. Kilda, until Nov 13, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 4, 2016
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Nov 7 and late in print. KH

LtoR-Brian Lipson, Natasha Herbert, Mark Wilson, Marco Chiappi, Piper Huynh, Marcus McKenzie, Natascha Flowers, Charles Purcell, photo Sarah Walker

Using Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a leaping-off point for a new play is courageous or, some might say, foolhardy, and Anti-Hamlet is a clear case of – well – both.

Mark Wilson’s script is an eclectic mash-up of the characters and narrative from Hamlet, mixed with snatches of Australian history and contemporary political issues relating to refugees, human rights and detention centres.

Wilson is not only the writer but also director and lead actor, but the clear highlight and significant drawcard for this production is the casting of three exceptional actors: Natasha Herbert, Marco Chiappi and Brian Lipson.

Hamlet (Wilson) is a brattish, depressed and entitled Prince of Denmark / Australia who stages embarrassingly mediocre, one-man theatre shows and makes ill-informed attempts at political activism against the regime of his mother, Queen Gertrude (Herbert), and her Prime Minister, Claudius (Chiappi).

Meanwhile, Ophelia (Natascha Flowers), a Rhodes scholar, returns from Oxford and becomes Claudius’s advisor on human rights, Hamlet’s hippy-musician friend, Horatio (Marcus McKenzie), is secretly a terrorist known as Anti-Hamlet, and a scurrilous, American marketing man, Bernays (Charles Purcell), manipulates Claudius’s campaign to become President of the new Republic.

If you are already thinking that this project sounds rather ambitious, sprawling and confusing, then you would be right.

There are some funny, outrageous and entertaining (albeit chaotic) scenes, some of the best of which involve Lipson as the hilariously stereotypical and smug Sigmund Freud when he psychoanalyses Gertrude, Hamlet or Claudius on his couch.

The opening night audience certainly laughed at the frenetic stage action, grotesquery, sexual explicitness and Hamlet’s nudity as well as the parallels between Australia’s human rights history and Hamlet’s half-baked views on injustice.

Chiappi’s Claudius is very funny as he switches from prancing braggart and schmoozing politician to petulant schoolboy, while Herbert, as Gertrude, morphs from the dignity and elegance of the Danish queen to the overtly sexualised, older woman who is a messy drunk.

Wilson, at times, finds the right balance of parody and sincerity as the idiotic man-child, Hamlet, Purcell is suitably over-the-top as Bernays, the bullying campaign manager, but Flowers lacks the acting range to play the smart but naive, bleeding-heart leftie, Ophelia.

Wilson’s script needs a vigorous edit to reduce the parodic but overly long, philosophical and political speeches delivered by Hamlet and others; their wordiness does not increase the humour or political impact, nor does it illuminate characters and issues.

The frantic stage action and topical references in Anti-Hamlet offer some entertainment but, ultimately, the simplification of Shakespeare’s themes leaves the production looking shallow and predictable.

By Kate Herbert

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