Review: Hamlet, Mill Productions

Hamlet, the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, dir. Geoff O’Keeffe

Review by Kaitlyn Culliton and Ema Vyroubalova (Trinity College Dublin)

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The Mill Theatre’s in-house company presents this energetic fast-paced Hamlet, which this academic year replaced King Lear as the Shakespeare fare on the Leaving Certificate in English. The energy of the production directed by Geoff O’Keeffe is driven in particular by the youthful Hamlet (Shane O’Regan), who infuses his performance of the demanding part with a rebellious teenage spirit. Regan’s performance is also highly physical. Unlike many other Hamlets, he brings in a surprisingly “athletic” take on the role, as he constantly moves, sometimes even runs and leaps, around the set. He also engages physically with the other characters, even where Shakespeare’s script does not explicitly require it.

What comes across as Hamlet’s aggressive rapport towards many of the other protagonists is, however, offset by his relationship with Horatio (Stephen O’Leary). The chemistry between the two characters, which suggests a deep and intimate (though not overtly sexual) bond, seems to function as a pillar supporting much of the production’s tragic heft. This Hamlet appears to trust Horatio fully and that trust is reciprocated with unrelenting loyalty even as Hamlet’s psyche starts to deteriorate under the extreme circumstances.

The tragic force generated by this relationship contrasts sharply with the comedic Polonius (Damien Devaney), who in this production comes across as a thoroughly clownish figure. He integrates both verbal and physical humor into his performance, which readily registers both with the other characters and with the actual audience. For instance, his repeated appearances on stage prompt ever-increasing levels of annoyance in Claudius (Neill Flemming). Polonius’s presence on stage indeed becomes something akin to a running joke, eventually eliciting laughter almost automatically by virtue of promise of further amusement. Even his murder is executed in a farcical spirit with other characters and the audience almost breathing a sigh of relief as he is dispatched.

Polonius’s death is nonetheless deeply mourned by Ophelia (Clara Harte), whose descent into mental instability is clinched by it, after she has already suffered through abuse and dismissals at the hands of both her father and Hamlet. Yet even as she descends into the inevitable madness, she delivers her lines with a clarity paired with purposeful action: for example, the passage about flowers (often played as an indicator of her lack of sanity) is here delivered as a haunting lament for her absent father complemented by use of actual flowers. Gertrude (Claire O’Donovan) also brings into her character a sense of intricately developed psychology. Her scenes with Hamlet in the closet are disturbingly poignant as an unmistakable Oedipal dynamic unfolds between the mother and son.

The austerity of Gerard Bourke’s set contrasts with the colorful characters. The minimalist concrete backdrop sometimes doubles as a makeshift screen for special digital effects (by Declan Brennan) that are projected onto it. The whole play opens with Hamlet standing under a digital deluge of water, suggestive of the themes of cleansing and much needed renewal. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father haunts these bare grey surfaces in his blue digitally-projected form and it is interesting to note that he is played by the same actor as Claudius. This of course opens the production up to many fascinating interpretations for both general audiences and secondary students studying the play formally this year!

–Kaitlyn Culliton and Ema Vyroubalova (Trinity College Dublin)

Mill Productions will be staging Romeo and Juliet at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in February and March 2017.

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