Review: Hamlet at the dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum – October 2019

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD) of Hamlet, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum, October 2019.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

With this lively fast-paced production performed in modern dress on a minimalist set, Hamlet comes back to Dundrum after a three-year hiatus. It is the seventh Shakespeare production to be staged at Mill Theatre in Dundrum Town Centre. Like all of the theatre’s earlier Shakespeare productions – Macbeth (2013), Othello (2014), King Lear (2015), Hamlet (2016), King Lear (2017), Romeo and Juliet (2018), Macbeth (2018) – it is put on by the in-house Mill Productions company and directed by their own Geoff O’Keefe as part of the theatre’s educational outreach programme.

If anyone comes to the play with the notion of Hamlet as a character who spends a lot of time standing around, mulling over his seemingly equally damning options while periodically delivering long poetic speeches, Kyle Hixon’s rendering of the role quickly dispels such stereotype. Hixon’s Hamlet brims over with nervous energy and he more often than not delivers his lines walking, pacing, running, jumping, fighting, crouching, or lying down. He joins the Player King and Queen in performing “The Murder of Gonzago” in Act 3 Scene 2. One scene later, when Hamlet has an ideal opportunity to kill Claudius but decides against it because the king is at his prayers and so may avoid eternal damnation, he hovers directly over the self-absorbed Claudius and makes it physically very obvious how close this Hamlet comes to going through with the murder. The manic energy with which he performs the notorious encounter with Gertrude (Caoilfhionn McDonnell) and the murder of Polonius (Malcolm Adams) in the Closet Scene (Act 3 Scene 4) suggests that this is a Hamlet who is being driven mad both by the events around him and by his own efforts to feign the “antic disposition”. His performance in the duel with Laertes (Felix Brown) is worth mentioning too as the two actors successfully pull off a technically demanding and largely naturalistic-looking fight.

Laoise Sweeney’s Ophelia presents a clear contrast to Hixon’s Hamlet, with her primarily inward-oriented grief and verbally rather than physically expressed descent into madness. While Hamlet in particular has often been played by experienced and so inevitably older actors, it is worth noting that the actors playing Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes, and Horatio (Harry Butler), are all comparably young (early to mid-20s). Geoff O’Keefe’s choice to cast a genuinely young Hamlet gives the intergenerational conflict at the heart of the play a naturalistic expression, and hopefully also makes it easier for the young target audiences to relate to these characters.

Due to the company’s small size, the production included several instances of double and triple casting: Claudius/the Ghost, Bernardo/Guildenstern, Player King/Grave Digger/Sailor, and Player Queen/Grave Digger/Messenger. The doubling of Claudius with the Ghost naturally raises a host of questions about the nature of both kingship and kinship in the play and makes us wonder whether the two kings are ultimately that different. The doubling of the Gravediggers (as purveyors of a comedic interlude in the play) with the Player King and Queen (as presenters of a tragedic interlude) in turn raises questions about mixing and interchangeability of comedy and tragedy and ultimately about Hamlet‘s genre. Among the inevitable cuts, most notable is the  elimination of Fortinbras: given the length of the play and the need to cut it down quite substantially to make it presentable to school groups, this seems like a reasonable choice, especially since this production focused on the family drama aspect of the play rather than on the play’s larger political context.

Hamlet 2019 ensemble Mill-Productions dlr Dundrum

Ensemble – Hamlet by Mill Productions at the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Compared to the sets and costumes of Mill Productions’ previous Shakespeare adaptations, especially last year’s visually rich Macbeth, I found the costumes (Susan Devitt) and the set (Gerard Bourke) a little disappointing but conceptually still fairly interesting. The costumes were a relatively inconspicuous modern dress affair in a black/grey/red/orange colour scheme, evocative of a postindustrial drabness and the oppressiveness of the Denmark Hamlet has found himself in. Only the eclectic colourful outfits of the Player Queen and Player provided a welcome visual respite.

The otherwise minimalist and similarly drab set was anchored by a trio of prominent elements: a half-torn screen on the back wall, used to project footage of Old Hamlet’s face at points when he speaks to Hamlet, as well as the contents of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia read out by Polonius; two white plastic cantilever chairs used as thrones; and a set of spheres suspended above the stage at different heights and variously illuminated in order to appear in different colours at different points in the production. The screen (decorated along the edges by splashes of colour vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s art) underlined the importance of omnipresent surveillance to the play’s plot. Its association with Old Hamlet’s image raises the question whether Hamlet is just replaying memories of his father in his own head or whether what he is seeing (and hearing) is a genuine ghost of his father independent of Hamlet’s imagination. The legless plastic chairs seemed to be hinting that Claudius’s kingdom may not have the proverbial “leg to stand on”. Finally, the suspended spheres changed their colours along with the changing moods and events of the play and certain colours seemed to be associated with certain characters. The setup was evocative of heavenly bodies, serving as a reminder of the uncertain relationship between an individual fate and the universe as a whole. At the same time, a touch of drabness – the larger of the spheres appeared to be rubber exercise balls dabbed with splashes of paint – visually tied these heavenly bodies to the very much earthly rest of the set.

Although the production is aimed primarily at students reading the play for the English portion of the Leaving Certificate, the almost entirely adult audience at the evening performance I attended on the whole seemed to genuinely enjoy it. In fact, one thing I could not help noticing throughout was how many of my fellow spectators appeared genuinely gripped by the story and how some were even eager to see how the plot would play out. This observation probably indicates that the story of Hamlet has been becoming, at least in contemporary Ireland, a less prominent part of what might be termed ‘general knowledge’ than it would have been some years or decades ago. But it also suggests that directors and actors may not have to worry about audience expectations shaped by previous encounters with the play as much as their predecessors had done, which can have a certain liberating effect. Geoff O’Keefe’s production of Hamlet fits this trend: with its sparse modern aesthetic and focus on combining energetic physical acting with clear and naturalistic delivery of Shakespeare’s lines, it will definitely appeal to anyone watching Hamlet for the first time, as well as to students watching the play as part of preparation for exams. More experienced theatre-goers and Shakespeare fans can still find plenty of interest, such as the colourful symbolism of the interplay between the lighting and the set, or the wealth of interpretive possibilities in the production’s multiple doubling and tripling casting choices.

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD), with thanks to Mill Productions.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

dlr Mill theatre Dundrum

 


 

Review: Macbeth at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Review: Macbeth at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Dublin, October 3rd-26th, 2018, directed by Geoff O’Keefe

Review by Ema Vyroubalová, Trinity College Dublin.

This was an engaging and fast-paced production, notable particularly for its rendering of the Witches, intriguing choices of doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling of roles, as well as an imaginatively conceived yet also very functional stage set. Because the play opens with the three Witches on stage, how a particular director chooses to portray this trio helps set the tone of the rest of the production. O’Keefe’s Witches were dressed in loose black garbs and hooded capes, designed to enable the actors to see but to prevent others from seeing their faces. The effect of these costumes (designed by Olga Criado Monleon) was quite eerie, especially as it gradually became clear to us in the audience, from the changing voices and the varying statures of the black-clad figures, that the roles of the witches in different scenes were being rotated among different actors. A look in the programme indeed reveals that five of the nine cast members play a witch at some point: Shane Quigley Murphy is both a Witch and Lennox; Andrew Kenny, Matthew O’Brien, and Ailbhe Cowley are triple-cast as Witch/Banquo/Doctor, Witch/Malcolm/Murderer, and Witch/Ross/Gentlewoman respectively; and Eanna Hardwicke gets to be Witch/Captain/Fleance/Young Siward. I suspect that the bundling of parts was to some extent prompted by budgetary constraints and/or availability of actors. But the unusual implementation of this bundling in regards to the Witches presents these figures as ubiquitous forces that not only shape the play’s events but that also somehow emanate from the world of the play’s human protagonists rather than from a separate supernatural realm.

It is worth noting that the production avoided the more common double-casting of Lady Macbeth with one of the Witches—likely because it would have implied the kind of too specific pre-emptive power dynamic between the human and the supernatural worlds this production sought to steer clear of. The Witches appeared as silent characters in a number of scenes where Shakespeare’s playscript does not call for their presence. They hovered in the background or foreground, watching the others’ actions or enacting inscrutable ceremonies around the cauldron (which stood at the front of the stage for the whole duration of the performance) and over a miniature replica of a semi-derelict medieval castle hall (or perhaps the nave of a church?) (which was located near the right-hand stage exit). As they did so, they periodically emerged out of dark corners of the set only to blend back into them. This underscored the witches’ omnipresence in a very physical way, by literally keeping at least one of them on stage for the majority of the show. A Witch thus watches as Duncan receives Macbeth to give him the good news of his newly gained title; a different Witch listens as Lady Macbeth reads out the fateful letter from her husband and then observes from the background the meeting between the Macbeths. The resulting integration of the Witches into virtually every moment of the play, whether through the overlapping in the casting of the majority of the roles or their insertions into most scenes as silent figures, ironically makes it very difficult to hypothesize about their roles in the play’s moral universe. They can be seen as representing everything, anything, and nothing at the same time—similar to how the dark void of the colour black results from absorbing all frequencies of light.

The remaining double and triple casting choices would seem to confirm this production’s refusal to locate the source of evil in the play somewhere in the triangle of usual suspects constituted by Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the Witches. Jed Murray plays both MacDuff and one of the Murderers while Damien Devaney plays Duncan, Porter, and Seyton. Only the roles of Macbeth (Neill Fleming) and his wife (Nichola Macevilly) are spared from this production’s love affair with doubling and trebling of roles, which ultimately emphasises the couple’s isolation and self-consuming despair. The set, designed by Gerard Bourke, creatively utilised the whole available space both vertically and horizontally as it included tree trunks, rocks, and caverns that the actors could variously position themselves on, in, or under. The set also featured a human skeleton and a partially burnt cadaver ominously suspended above the stage and periodically lit (lighting design by Kris Mooney) so as to cast shadows on the actors and actions below. I was a little disappointed by the elimination of many of the passages from the so-called Hecate scenes, especially since the witches and their ever-present cauldron otherwise play such a central role in this production. Another slight disappointment was the beheading of Macbeth’s corpse at the very end of the production, which prompted confused laughter from a portion of the audience as the special effect looked rather cheap and came across as almost comical, which did not appear to be the production’s intention.

Review by Ema Vyroubalová, Trinity College Dublin.

the-three-witches-by-henry-fuseli

Henry Fuseli’s 19th c. painting of the three witches

 

Review: Julius Caesar – National Theatre Live

The National Theatre’s Julius Caesar, screened in cinemas around Ireland on March 22nd, opened with the usual live screening announcements. Microphone in hand, the announcer informed us of the running time, advertised upcoming NT events, and cautioned us about the show’s use of strobe lighting. Rather than being bland or routine however, these pronouncements were presented in the manner of a roving reporter caught in the middle of Caesar’s raucous political rally. Standing amongst the audience, and almost drowned out by the rock band playing in the background, the announcer even signed off by declaring that she was “off to join the rabble. Hail Caesar!” With the camera moving amongst the audience, the action seemed immediate and pointedly familiar. From the get go then, this production of Julius Caesar was captivating and creative.

The early scenes smoothly introduced the main players. A triumphant Caesar entered surrounded by flags and banners espousing his campaign slogan “Do this!”. Sporting a leather jacket and baseball cap, and assuredly pressing the flesh, Caesar resembled the American presidential candidates we’ve seen on our screen in recent years. Wearing a “Do this!” t-shirt, Marc Antony was clearly in Caesar’s camp and had a strong filial bond with the elder statesman. Brutus, ever the intellectual, signed copies of his book, worked late in his study, and emphasised his thoughts on tyranny by gesticulating with his spectacles.

Michelle Fairley as Cassius - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

Michelle Fairley as Cassius – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

As strong as these performances were, by David Calder, David Morrissey, and Ben Whishaw respectively, Michelle Fairley’s Cassius was an absolute revelation. Fairley will be familiar to many as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, and her performance as Cassius was no less compelling and formidable. On several occasions, Cassius’ scenes were the stand out moments of the production. The gender switch enabled Caesar’s complaints about Cassius in 1.2 to assume new significance. Cassius rolled her eyes as Caesar, for the umpteenth time we imagine, commented openly on her appearance and qualities, begging to have “men about me that are fat” rather than slim women who think too much and are hungry for freedom. Meeting the sardonic Casca, played by Adjoa Andoh, the conspiring pair seemed to channel both the femme fatales and hard-bitten heroes of film noir to produce a scene heavy with gloom and menace. When Cassius and Brutus squabbled after the assassination, they recalled the Macbeths, dismayed at the turn of events and unable to wash the blood from their hands. (In the squalor of their ruined shelter, Brutus still found time to apply some hand-sanitiser!) In her suicide, Cassius was as proud, defiant, and pitiable as Cleopatra in her death.

david_morrissey_mark_anthony_-_julius_caesar_at_the_bridge_theatre_-_photo_credit_manuel_harlan_2

David Morrissey as Antony – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

As Brutus ascended the stage of the Forum to explain the conspirators’ actions, it seemed his work would be cut out for him. Citizens – co-opted members of the audience and stagehands – waved posters of Caesar and shouted their displeasure. Gradually though, as Brutus’ speech continued, the posters were lowered as if the protesting citizens were won over or, more likely, the audience was simply tired holding the images aloft. Whereas Brutus had gripped his microphone like a TV evangelist, Antony quickly discarded it, preferring to speak his eulogy directly to the audience. In his pose as a simple man reluctantly moved to defend Caesar, Antony was wholly convincing. Only later, when he was pleased at the citizens’ planned “mischief” and when he swaggered in his combat gear with Octavius, did Antony suddenly seem two-faced. With deafening gunfire, the debris of urban warfare, and the uniforms and weapons of modern armies, the production’s battle scenes recalled those of Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011). These action scenes came to a swift end as Antony and Octavius discovered the bodies of Cassius and Brutus. With victory secured, Octavius showed himself to be every inch the arrogant commander. Standing at the stage’s highest point, he stripped off some of his combat gear and, Nixon-like, gave peace signs to his people as celebratory balloons fell. The production ended as it began, with a PR exercise by a savvy politician and Rome’s fate standing on shaky ground.

It was evident that the NT Julius Caesar gripped the theatre and the cinema audience from beginning to end. With superb performances from the main players, supporting cast, and the co-opted audience members (volunteers? victims?) and with a running time of just over 2 hours, this is a pacey and timely production certain to entertain.

There will be encore screenings of the National Theatre’s Julius Caesar at:

Light House Cinema, Dublin, on Tuesday 27 March.

Cork Opera House on Wednesday 28 March.

For tickets here and in other locations, see the NT Live website here.

Review: King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

king-lear-2017-db_6907-e1504614670795

King Lear, Mill Productions, dlr Mill Theatre, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe

This production opens with pulsating music, flashes of light, and three gyrating figures moving under the sway of some mesmeric force, so that for a few startling moments you might be at a production of Macbeth rather than King Lear. These are not the weird sisters, however, but Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia who face away from the audience towards a large structure upstage while human actors transformed into wolves snarl and weave around them. Suddenly the stage lights are reversed, dazzling the audience, and the actors’ faces turn to the back of the auditorium: the King is entering.

The large structure ­– half set and half stage property – resembles part of a huge crown with three spikes each jutting in a separate direction, the whole piece off-centre and its balance slightly off-kilter. In the centre is a throne, empty at first, then occupied by Lear, and later hovered over, circled, and sat on by various other characters. This is clearly a disturbed kingdom where powerful forces have gone askew, where there is splintering rather than unity, and where a sense of preternatural menace hums beneath the institutions of state, family, and marriage. It is quickly understood, then, that the sisters’ dance is not an expression of communion but of compulsion and disharmony.

Mill Productions is the production wing of dlr Mill Theatre and this production of King Lear is part of their “education outreach”. When I attended on opening night last Wednesday, about half the audience were a school group who seemed engaged in the performance throughout. The production does a good job of communicating the plot and character relationships clearly without condescending to the viewer at any point, and of showing how the visual and aural language of theatre generate the play’s meaning as it is lifted off the page. A number of characters are played by the same actor, as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time, but this doubling was never confusing.

It was also made use of artistically in the case of the choice to double the parts of Cordelia and the Fool, played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan. There has been speculation since the nineteenth century about whether the roles – which are never simultaneously on stage – might originally have been doubled. This production seemed to encourage us to consider in parallel how Cordelia and the Fool relate to Lear, challenging but loving him, and the first half ends with the Fool in tears and alone taking off his coxcomb hat to reveal more clearly that this was also Cordelia’s face. Such a choice does pose certain obstacles, however, and perhaps hampered the development of both characters.

I enjoyed the cool malice of Sharon McCoy’s multifaceted Goneril who managed to be both fragile and terrible. Philip Judge succeeded in presenting a Lear who was clearly deeply flawed at the same time as sympathetic. When he laid his head in the Fool’s lap and implored “O let me not be mad, not mad”, his desperation and vulnerability were heartrending. So too was his later admission to Cordelia that “to deal plainly / I fear I am not in my perfect mind”, where the gentle cautiousness of the delivery alongside the situation’s absurdity made it truly moving. It was these moments of pathos for humanity as the trappings of civility are eroded, even as we recognise human culpability, that stayed with me after I left the theatre.

———————

King Lear runs at dlr Mill Theatre until 28 October with nearly daily matinée performances at 10am and 1.30pm. Contact the Box Office for 10am and 1.30pm performances please – info@milltheatre.ie / 01-2969340. There will be evening performances at 7.30pm on Wednesday 25th October and Thursday 26th October.

SaveSave

Review: Hamnet at the Peacock/Abbey – Dublin Theatre Festival

Hamnet, as the play’s programme informs us, is just one letter away from greatness. It’s a predicament that haunts the play’s central character, Hamnet Shakespeare, who is based on the real-life son of William Shakespeare. In the play, Hamnet is close to great things – his father, literary fame, knowledge, life, death – but is tragically trapped on their margins. In one hour and with just two actors, Hamnet plucks its titular hero from the side-lines and makes him the centre of attention to tell his story.

From his opening lines as the eleven-year old Hamnet, Ollie West arrests the audience’s attention and never lets go. As a ghost and in asking the audience “Who’s there?”, before telling us “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers”, Hamnet recalls the opening of Hamlet and indicates that fourth-wall breaking will be par for the course. The audience will be both spectators to and participants in Hamnet’s working through of some big and very personal questions – What makes a man great? Why do we suffer? Why do we make art? Why would you choose “not to be”? Are some people born bad? When they’ve never really lived, why do children die? Does his father prefer him or Hamlet? Why did they see so little of one another? It is remarkable that in spite of the gravity of these questions and of Hamnet’s situation, the play is packed with comedy. For instance, Hamnet’s youth is highlighted as he energetically knocks out a Johnny Cash tune on his keyboard, gives a new friend tips on how best to play dead (the key is to stay still and not breathe – wannabe actors take note!), and stuck for answers he pulls out his phone to ask Google. As the play’s authors have crafted a fine balance between tragedy and comedy, West has plenty to work with and he ably shifts between the tones and the media (stage and film) of this production – no small feat for any actor, never mind a pre-teen boy.

K800_HAMNET-3177 - Dead Centre - 2017

Hamnet sees himself on the video – Image credit: DeadCentre.org

Exploring the performative and critical history of Hamlet, David Bevington observes that the play “has now evolved into a cultural expression of what we as a society have become today” (Murder Most Foul, 2011: vii). Like its more famous ancestor then, Hamnet tackles not only existential questions, it seeks in part to express and examine the state of contemporary society (“to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” [Hamlet, 3.2]). Hamnet and his father Will are trotted out for our entertainment, but the play frequently forces the audience’s gaze back on itself. This is achieved both literally through the backdrop of a live video that shows the theatre and metaphorically as the play pokes at the suppurating wounds in modern life. Hamnet’s targets are near universal and many hit close to home; the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Donald Trump’s presidency, celebrity culture, the double-edge sword that is technology, and child-rearing practices (including the Work/Life balance which is an ideal but more often another source of guilt for the working parent), all fall within the bounds of the characters’ discussions.

Hamnet 2017 - H in white makeup - deadcentre.org

Hamnet faces the video screen – Image credit: DeadCentre.org

Throughout, Hamnet offers several opportunities to play “spot the reference”. Hamnet’s speeches are peppered with Shakespearean quotations and allusions and at other times the play lifts wholesale from the canon. Hamlet is the key source, but we also hear most of Constance’s “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” speech from King John; as Hamnet misses his sister there are echoes of the separated twins of Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors; Falstaff and Hal’s play acting in Henry IV Part 1 springs to mind when Hamnet plays at being Hamlet meeting Old Hamlet; and there are touches of Act 5 of Antony and Cleopatra when Hamnet worries whether in the future some actor will play him on stage, but botch the job.

The play is more than a tapestry of Shakespearean references though, and even as it draws on Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, it is something fresh, original, and striking. In the days since I have seen Hamnet, I’ve thought about it again and again – it is a prismatic work, turning the play over in my mind I keep seeing new facets, questions, and ideas – and I’m only certain of one thing: I want to see it again.

Hamnet is a Dead Centre and Abbey Theatre co-production and is written by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, with William Shakespeare. Cast and production details here.

Hamnet runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until 7th October – tickets here –  before touring to Europe and Asia. There will be a Post-Show Discussion on Thursday 5th October, with members of the company.

Review: Hamlet by Icarus Theatre Collective at Cork Opera House

Review: Hamlet by Icarus Theatre Collective at Cork Opera House – 6th Feb. 2017
Review by Edel Semple

Icarus Theatre Collective’s Hamlet, on tour in Ireland and the UK at present, packages itself as “Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation”. In its set, costumes, and action, the production often nods to the popular HBO series, using the now familiar imagery to enliven and illuminate this iconic tragedy. Every character carried a sword, Gertrude and Claudius donned furs like trophies of a recent hunting party, and the pair sat in thrones decorated with a spear design that illustrated the interests of the “warlike state”. Denmark’s brutish culture, and Hamlet’s alienation from it, was demonstrated early on as, for the court’s entertainment, a brawny Laertes dispatched an opponent in a bloody knife fight. Huge Danish flags formed the backdrop for the stage and the unfussy set, with its pillars and tiered marble steps, provided plenty of scope for the cast to traverse from the battlements to the court to the graveyard. The play script was similarly economical; the performance time was a neat 2 hours 15min and the cuts were effective. For instance, the Fortinbras subplot was omitted entirely, as in many modern stage productions and Olivier and Zeffirelli’s films, and the production was all the better for it.

icarus-hamlet-2017-laertes-fight-facebook

Laertes and his opponent, with Claudius and Gertrude in the background (Credit: Icarus Facebook)

 

The production had just a cast of nine but it seemed like much more as each actor played numerous roles and characters were rarely alone. On Elsinore’s battlements, for example, seven soldiers stood on guard to be met by Horatio. In their exchange, the soldiers responded like a chorus; they would answer Horatio’s question in unison, or one line would be shared by several speakers. In the opening scene, I found this an irritating distraction – it was, quite simply, clutter that got in the way of clear meaning and performance. Later in the play however, the chorus was used effectively and opened avenues for analysis. When Hamlet attacked Ophelia, the actor playing Gertrude said “get thee to a nunnery” before Hamlet repeated the line to Ophelia. This was perhaps a version of Gertrude in Hamlet’s mind, taking his side and advocating chastity and an all-female environment as women’s only route to safety.

icarus-hamlet-2017-ophelia-with-r-and-g-from-icarus-facebook

Ophelia recites Hamlet’s letter, now held by Guildenstern and Rosencrantz  (Credit: Icarus Facebook)

 

As Claudius prayed, the chorus sometimes spoke to and for him. When the soldiers informed Hamlet of the Ghost’s appearance, they stood around the stage; their voices acted like an eerie echo chamber and the effect was as disorienting as the supernatural encounter they described. This, however, brings me to a further criticism. Perhaps over-exposure to The Walking Dead and past Hamlets have influenced my expectations of the Ghost, but I feel short-changed when “Old Mole” in no way resembles a corpse (as in the Cumberbatch Hamlet) or a spectre (as in the Branagh and Tennant versions). As in other productions, Icarus’ Claudius doubled as Old Hamlet but when he appeared on stage, save for some smoke and the fear of the soldiers, there were no signs that Old Hamlet was in fact supposed to be a terror-inspiring spectre. Thus as Old Hamlet looked remarkably healthy for a dead man, his scenes were a little lacking.

icarus-hamlet-2017-hamlet-and-h-and-g-from-icarus-facebook

Hamlet (far left), with Horatio (seated), a soldier and the Ghost  (Credit: Icarus Facebook)

Overall though, this was a solid production with several flashes of brilliance. Besides the neat cuts to the script and clear vision in the set and costuming, there were striking moments made memorable thanks to the performances of the cast. The tag-team of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were one of the production’s gems. Cast as a woman and man respectively, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern added some much needed levity to the seriousness of the Danish court. The pair appeared youthful, engaging in slapstick like tripping on the stairs and stealing Hamlet’s letter from Polonius and Ophelia to mock the sentiment. Their betrayal of Hamlet was not an act of malice or cunning, but of immaturity; naively impressed by the king and queen, they held to a misguided allegiance to the monarchy rather than their old friend. In his rejection of the pair (“though you fret me you cannot play upon me”), Hamlet assumed all of his princely authority to banish them from his sight.

icarus-hamlet-2017-hamlet-r-and-g-from-icarus-facebook

Rosencrantz, Hamlet, and Guildenstern  (Credit: Icarus Facebook)

 

Although youthful, Hamlet was neither an effete intellectual nor a sulky teen. Unlike the erratic hyperactivity or inertia of other Danes, the performance by Icarus’ Hamlet was confident and measured. When Hamlet did display intense emotion then, the impact on the scene was palpable. In the closet scene, Hamlet was pitiful when the Ghost reprimanded him and plain distraught when Gertrude could “see nothing there”. During the Mousetrap, Hamlet jumped to his feet and squared up to Claudius, who visibly bristled with his hand on his sword; for a moment it looked as if vengeance would be had and an alternative ending was in store.

c4jufu9wqain5_b

Gertrude and Hamlet in the closet scene (Credit: Icarus Twitter)

 

In the finale, Gertrude deliberately drank the poisoned wine; she determinedly defied her husband, protected her son, and chose her own (fatal) path. Following soon after, Claudius’ death was an arresting affair that visually recalled the death of Fassbender’s Macbeth; impaled by Hamlet’s sword, the king died kneeling with his back to the audience, his head forever in a penitential bow. Horatio’s performance was also particularly affecting. Cross-gendered casting was typical in the production – intriguingly Ophelia played the Gravedigger, a doubling I’ve not seen before – and Camille Marmié was compelling as Horatio. Surrounded by the bodies of the royals, nobles, and the courtiers murdered by Laertes and Hamlet in their frenzy, Horatio sat forlornly atop a mound of corpses. With the omission of Fortinbras, Horatio’s description of the “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts” became a soliloquy where, like Hamlet before her, she toyed with the idea of suicide. Her life hung in the balance and, as the sole survivor of the orgy of violence, the audience were invested in her fate. After a tense moment, Horatio finally cast the poisoned chalice aside and the scene cut to black. Such was the strength of both performances, I could envision the actors playing Horatio and Hamlet exchange roles as Faustus and Mephistophilis did in the RSC Doctor Faustus (2016).

All in all, Icarus Theatre Collective’s Hamlet is an invigorating and stylish production that captures the attention from the opening scene to Horatio’s last word.

Icarus Theatre Collective’s Hamlet concludes its tour of Ireland in the Siamsa Tíre Theatre, Tralee, Co. Kerry, on 13th-14th February 2017. More information on the touring schedule, cast etc. can be found on the Icarus Theatre Collective’s website here.

Report: Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre in Cork

In mid-November 2015, the Irish Renaissance Seminar met in Marsh’s Library. The seminar theme “Time, Memory, and Commemoration” looked back back to the past but also looked expectantly to the future via an open discussion of plans for the Shakespeare quartercentenary. Many of the proposals which were aired at the meeting bore fruit and have been promoted and cataloged on this blog. My project “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre”, funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Scheme, was one of the final commemorative events in Irish universities in 2016.

The project’s primary aim was to make a unique contribution to the worldwide celebrations of Shakespeare 400. It sought too to inspire interest in Shakespeare’s lesser-known drama; to deepen our understanding of Shakespeare’s sources and his legacy; and to cultivate networks between scholars, theatre practitioners, and the general public. The project comprised a staged reading of Shakespeare’s critically-neglected late play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.1606) held in the Unitarian Church in Cork city, and a symposium and public lecture held in University College Cork.

unitarian church Cork

The Unitarian Church, Cork city

Although unfamiliar to a general audience, Pericles proved to be ideally suited to performance as a staged reading. Story-telling is central to its dramaturgy and, as its narrator Gower insists, the tale is designed to “glad your ear and please your eyes”. As hoped, the performance introduced a new audience to this little-known Shakespearean romance. Part of this new audience included the cast of community actors – students from UCC Drama and Theatre Studies and the local LittleShoes drama group – as Pericles was unfamiliar to them and indeed most had never performed Shakespeare before. After just two days of rehearsals we were delighted to take to the stage, with our director Sinead Dunphy, to perform for a packed house. The reading had in fact sold out quickly and we even had to secure extra chairs on the night – as the British Council’s Shakespeare 400 programme suggested, it seems that “Shakespeare Lives…in Cork”!

The reading attracted a diverse audience which included the general public, as well as UCC staff and students of all levels. Cork is a designated UNESCO Learning City and both during and after the project, it was evident that the performance inspired an enthusiastic response from the city’s lifelong learners. The production was filmed and is available online here. A scholarly review of the production can be found on Dr Peter Kirwan’s Bardathon blog.

In addition to the IRC New Foundations funding, the project was also supported by UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and UCC’s School of English. This group of supporters were invaluable when it came to organising the symposium/graduate masterclass which explored Pericles, its sources, and critical and performative history, as well as issues relevant to the plot. With papers that addressed a wide range of topics including Old English, Middle English, neo-Latin, Shakespearean drama, gender studies, and Shakespeare on film, the interdisciplinary symposium explored and enhanced our understanding of Shakespeare, his influences, and his place in the literary canon.

Pericles 2016 - Dr Peter Kirwan speaking at IRC funded symposium.jpg

Dr Peter Kirwan speaking at the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles” symposium in November 2016. 

The keynote public lecture, delivered by Dr Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham), gave a rare insight into the herculean task of editing Pericles. The symposium concluded with a convivial roundtable on the performance of Pericles, involving the director, actors, and myself as project leader. Full details on the symposium’s schedule can be found here.

Report by Dr Edel Semple.