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

 


 

Theatre: Romeo and Juliet at dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum

From the dlr Mill theatre Dundrum website.

Directed by Geoff O’Keeffe for MILL PRODUCTIONS, this abridged version of Romeo and Juliet is an ideal opportunity to expose Junior Cycle students to their first live Shakespeare experience.

Throughout the year the venue also offers you and your pupils (at all levels) the opportunity to really engage with your chosen text by offering Drama Workshops to bring these texts to life.  Workshops are led by experienced facilitators and designed to engage the student creatively by exploring characters, themes and language of your chosen text. Mill Productions has produced 2 Shakespeare plays every year for many years – including Macbeth in 2018, King Lear 2017 and Hamlet 2016. For booking details see the dlr Mill theatre Dundrum website here.

FULL CAST:
Jack Mullarkey                        Romeo
Gillian Buckle                          Juliet
Michael James Ford                Capulet
Serena Brabazon                     Lady Capulet
Evelyn Shaw                            Nurse
Brian James Gilligan               Friar / Tybalt
Rachel O’Connell                    Mercutio
Ethan Dillon                            Benvolio

Gillian Buckle and Jack Mullarkey in Romeo and Juliet - Mill Productions 2019

Gillian Buckle and Jack Mullarkey in Romeo and Juliet – Mill Productions 2019

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.

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

 

“Macbeth” at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Mill Productions present one of Shakespeare’s most intense tragedies. Directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe and featuring a talented professional cast, this is a traditional production, with genuinely gripping and often affecting performances which sharpen our understanding of Shakespeare’s analysis of human folly and strive to do justice to this greatest of plays.

Evening Performances: Wednesday 10th and Wednesday 24th October at 7.30pm – Tickets €18/€16

Contact the Box Office directly to book your school or group in – info@milltheatre.ie / 01-2969340. Play running time: 2hrs 30mins with a short interval.

School Performance times weekdays at 10am and 1.30pm. A Study Guide will accompany the production. Schools/teachers please see the website for details here.

 

 

 

Theatre: Much Ado About Nothing, 3 – 7 July, St Enda’s Park, Rathfarnham

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From dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum:

Balally Players Summer Shakespeare will be performing Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare outdoors in the beautiful walled garden of St Enda’s Park.

This witty and most popular comedy deals with the stormy loves of two couples: the confirmed bachelor Benedick and the spirited Beatrice, and the naive and innocent Hero and the gullible and hot-tempered Claudio.

While ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’, in Much Ado it is helped and hindered by friends and villains alike. As Hero says ‘some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps’.

Full of wit and banter, fools, clowns and music, it has been described as “Shakespeare’s greatest sex-war comedy” (The Telegraph, 2017)

 

Book tickets online, or visit or phone the box office (+353 01 296 9340).

Review: King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

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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.

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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.

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King Lear at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

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King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Co. Dublin

Mill Productions present what is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s crowning artistic achievement. King Lear is set in the court of an aging British monarch. Shakespeare probably wrote it in around 1604, sandwiched between two other great tragedies, Othello and Macbeth. Mill Productions, having produced Macbeth in 2013 and Othello in 2014 now set to bring the ultimate Shakespearian tragedy King Lear to the stage. Directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe and featuring a talented professional cast, this is a traditional production, with genuinely gripping and often affecting performances which sharpen our understanding of Shakespeare’s analysis of human folly and strive to do justice to this greatest of plays.

Starring Philip Judge as Lear.

Evening Performances at 7.30pm:
Wednesday 11th October
Thursday 12th October
Wednesday 25th October
Thursday 26th October