NB: I just found this review from 1995. From the vantage point of 2021, I know this was an exceptional production with an extraordinarily talented cast that included Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Richard Roxburgh, Peter Carroll, and directed by Neil Armfield. This was a treat! KH
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Produced by by Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company
At Playhouse Theatre until October, 1995
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on around 20 Sep 1995
Nothing shatters the spirit like grief and Shakespeare's Hamlet is saturated with souls grieving for death, abandonment or betrayal. Richard Roxborough's Hamlet is a copybook study of grief: shock, sadness, disconnection from his body and environment, fear, disbelief, self-doubt followed by unbridled rage.
Roxborough has earned his Sydney Critic's Award for his idiosyncratic, compelling and prismatic characterisation which glints in the light as he turns it. His prince has a subtlety and dynamic range which resonates, shifting easily from underplayed youthful carping and melancholia, through physical incapacitation to cynicism, physical comedy then full-blown anguish.
How easily we forget the effect of grief on we frail humans. Hamlet loses a father, a lover then a mother. Ophelia her lover then father and Laertes father and sister. Their grief is palpable, almost unbearable to behold. The men turn their aching anguish outward to revenge a wronged loved one. Ophelia turns her pain inward.
There is a delicacy and reality in Neil Armfield's finely tuned, rhythmic production which plays the actors like instruments which weep and wail with torrents of emotion. He gives them their heads, never overstating either comedy or pathos. It is an ensemble piece with many of this exceptional cast playing multiple roles.
Peter Carroll as the donnish "prating old fool", Polonius, almost steals the first half of the play. Geoffrey Rush commendably underplays Horatio, the loyal, ever-watchful eye of objectivity.
Jacek Koman has a still and regal composure which makes Claudius all the more insidious. Cate Blanchett's mad scene as Ophelia was profoundly distressing yet lyrical. Her pale muddied skin and clothing heightened the fragility of her physical and spiritual self.
The whole piece is served perfectly by the soundscape (Paul Charlier) and the design (Dan Potra) with distressed warehouse walls and cold tiling create a chill, grey, discomfiting palace for this greatest of all tragedies. The tiny shrine lights and flowers on the wall remind us constantly of the dead who will be remembered.