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.

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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.

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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.

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Theatre: Hamnet, Abbey Theatre

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Hamnet

An Abbey Theatre and Dead Centre Co-production

From the Abbey website:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child
King John, Act III scene IV

William Shakespeare had one son. He named him Hamnet. He then left home to pursue his career in the theatre, effectively abandoning his family. In 1596, he was told that the boy – who was then eleven years old – was seriously ill. By the time Shakespeare reached Stratford, Hamnet had died.

In 1599, Shakespeare wrote a play called Hamlet.

Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare. And he is one letter away from being a great man. We are too old to understand Hamnet. How close are we to greatness? We meet in the middle, in a theatre, in purgatory: youth reaching forward to a life it will never know, an audience reaching back to a life it has forgotten.

A solo work for an eleven year old boy, Hamnet uses live video and dead video to bridge the gap between two generations, asking each other what they want to pass on and receive.

BOOKING INFORMATION FOR HAMNET

Dates: 26 September – 7 October
Previews: 26 & 27 September
On the Peacock stage

Times: Mon – Sat 8pm, Matinees Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: €18 – €25 / Conc. €16 – €20

To book for a group of 6+ call (01) 87 97 266

More information: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/hamnet/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Theatre: “Hamlet” – Icarus Theatre touring Ireland

A company of seasoned classical actors embrace the brutality of the greatest play ever written. A gripping, ensemble style brings exhilaration and violence to the unforgettable music and delicacy of the words.

Blending traditional and physical theatre with a musical score, Icarus Theatre’s muscular production brings vividly to life some of literature’s most vibrant language and characters in a way you’ve never seen before: bold, exciting, and action-packed.

Touring the UK and Ireland in January  – February 2017, including theatres in Castleblayney, Derry, Newtonabbey, Coleraine, and Tralee, and the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre Dublin and Cork Opera House.

Running time: 2hr 30min, including 15 min interval.

For more info and the detailed touring schedule, see the Icarus Theatre website.

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[Website info]

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.

Review: “The Bed” at the Cork Midsummer Festival

Guest post by Emer Murphy

As the most celebrated playwright ever to put ink to paper, it remains astonishing that so little is known about William Shakespeare’s personal life. However, in an imaginative and intriguing one-act play, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, Ger FitzGibbon, former head of Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC, delves into the sparse facts of Shakespeare’s private life, a life in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The Bed, a one-woman play co-directed by FitzGibbon and Jack Healy, gives the stage to Shakespeare’s widow, Anne Hathaway, as she reflects on the life of her late husband, and reacts to the contents of his will in the aftermath of his death.

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Shakespeare’s will (1616)

Starring Paula McGlinchey (who has featured in previous Shakespeare productions as well as in BBC’s Line of Duty), the play is set in April 1616, and takes place in the bedchamber Shakespeare once shared with his wife. This setting helps to separate the private man from the celebrated playwright who wrote for the London theatres and the court. The play serves as a platform for the wife and the life Shakespeare left at home in the country and it is Hathaway’s subjectivity which maintains the focus. Performed in Cork’s Unitarian Church, the unique, limited capacity space offers a more intimate scene for Hathaway’s reminiscing as the audience forms an L-shape in close proximity to the stage, allowing us to intrude on the private thoughts of the protagonist, thereby creating a bond between the subject and the audience and placing us firmly on Hathaway’s side.

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Oak bed c.1650-1700 – image copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Having bequeathed most of his belongings to his eldest daughter Susanna, Shakespeare leaves Hathaway with his “second best bed”, an object which dominates the stage. The playing space itself takes on the shape of a large-four poster bed as single wooden shafts stand at the four corners, anchoring a cloth canopy above the stage, effectively mirroring a bed. The action of the play, therefore, whether intended or not, takes place on a bed, firmly confining it to the private sphere between a husband and wife. Within this domestic space, Hathaway frequently addresses her dead spouse and remembers their more intimate moments together, along with the challenges their marriage faced.

Issues of widowhood and the social alterations and ambiguities that accompany it are addressed in the play, raising concerns about the reality of a widow’s legal rights. McGlinchey’s powerful performance combines light and dark, despair and humour, and sees both laughter and tears as she commands the stage, displaying a range of emotions as she tries to adjust to the reality of her husband’s death and her changed situation, where “widows [are] shoved off into corners”. Now relegated to a lesser room in the house, she is left eating cold mutton and barley with no spoon!

She portrays moments of deep, silent contemplation along with occasions of loud, emotional outbursts as she recounts the death of their son, Hamnet, along with an array of both turbulent and blissful episodes in their marriage. Challenges such as his mother’s belief that Anne had “snared her innocent [son]” shadowed their union. Other personal insights into their relationship make Shakespeare all the more human for the audience as Anne recalls how it infuriated her when he would write down her words when she was “trying to have a fight with [him]” after his long periodical absences from home.

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Shakespeare’s family circle – engraving by unknown German engraver, c.1890

Despite their differences, however, their marriage was not completely clouded in darkness and pain, as she remembers fondly their more affectionate moments picking blackberries, and “playing and making lewd verses”. Her discovery that he kept her apple-wood whistle brings a shadowy smile to her lips and softens her resolve as she realises that he brought mementos of her to London, adding to the dynamic of her grief. Her tenderness, however, is short-lived and replaced with a knowing scoff as she acknowledges how it has “dried out from lack of use”. Such contrasting emotions heighten the already poignant atmosphere as other such personal memories pour out as she remembers the intricacies of their marriage.

The raw emotional scenes of the play are complimented by Irene Buckley’s original music scores, which alter the atmosphere dramatically. The music heralds a shift in mood for Hathaway, seeing her transported to a distant memory from the past. At one point in the production, soft, tranquil music begins to echo as her eyes glisten with oncoming tears while she recalls the summer they married. The music cuts unexpectedly and anger replaces grief as she shouts “get out of my head”; she is a woman in mourning and McGlinchey’s performance depicts this in a moving manner.

Twelfth Night Folio

Twelfth Night – Folio

One of the more notable features of the play, however, is the repeated references to some of Shakespeare’s most famed work. Hathaway accounts for aspects of their lives that inspired the plot of plays, including Twelfth Night. The appropriation of this comedy serves to make Shakespeare’s grief for his dead son all the more real as he determines to provide a happy ending for his family who “all teared up” when the twins are reunited. Hathaway details how the play held a special significance for their daughter, Judith, who was driven to near madness after her twin’s death. Noting that many of her husband’s plays were characterised by loss and confusion, Anne provides a glimpse into the personal motivation that influenced him. The Merchant of Venice is echoed loudly in the play with the discovery of a chest that Shakespeare left under the bed, containing an assortment of treasures and keepsakes, amongst which hides a lost play. Naturally, Hamlet also earns a reference when a mask recalling Yorick’s skull is found. Numerous other plays are woven into the plot and quoted from throughout, including Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It and King Lear, reminding us of the renowned playwright who has inspired Anne’s tears and anger.

The 65 minute production effectively portrayed the multi-faceted journey of grief and the range of emotions that accompany it.

Guest post by Emer Murphy, postgraduate student on the MA Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance at University College Cork.

Theatre: Hamlet, Mill Productions, 5–28 October

Venue: Mill Theatre, Dundrum, County Dublin
Date: 5–28 October
Show time: 10am Mon–Fri, Tuesdays at 1.30pm, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7.30pm
Admission:  €20/€18
SCHOOL GROUP BOOKINGS: €15 per student
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From the website:

Mill Productions present Shakespeare’s HAMLET

After our highly successful run of KING LEAR last October we are very happy to announce our next Shakespearian production of HAMLET.

This traditional production, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, remains faithful to the original text and will find resonances with Leaving Certificate students. Give us a call today to book your preferred date as we have quite a few dates fully booked already.

Wednesday 5th October to Friday 28th October
from 10th October: Monday to Friday at 10am
Afternoon performances every Tuesday at 1.30pm

BOOKING INFORMATION

• Call us on 01-2969340 or email aoife@milltheatre.ie

• €15 per student

• 1 Teacher per 20 students goes free

• 20% deposit required to secure booking

• Full payment due 2 weeks before performance date

BOOK EARLY TO SECURE YOUR PREFERRED DATE!

VIEW PROMOTIONAL VIDEO HERE!

https://youtu.be/4UcOQ66iBOQ