Screening and discussion: RSC Hamlet on RTE2 and Cyclone Rep Q&A

Cyclone Rep, Ireland’s leading Shakespeare Theatre-in-Education Company, is trying to help Leaving Certificate students during these difficult times, coming up with interesting new online ways to interact and make the works of William Shakespeare accessible to the young audiences. Due to the current lockdown the Cyclone Rep National Tour had to be cut short, but out of this unfortunate situation the company has come up with a solution to keep their mission alive.

RTÉ has announced that they will air Hamlet for the benefit of Secondary School students, showing the RSC Hamlet (2009) on Saturday 11th April 2020 on RTÉ2, 11.25am. All of the upcoming screenings of Shakespeare productions will be available on RTÉ Player for 30 days post-broadcast.

Following this announcement, Cyclone Rep has organised a live streamed discussion and Q&A on the themes of the Bard’s masterpiece.

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Tennant as Hamlet – RSC 2008

On Saturday 11th of April at 3.10pm, after RTE’s screening of the RSC production of Hamlet (starring David Tennant & Patrick Stewart), Cyclone Rep Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Peadar Donohoe, together with Hamlet Session lead actor Marcus Balewill discuss the main themes of the play and will answer any questions posed by the viewers. The streaming can be found at 3.10pm on the company’s Facebook page (facebook.com/CycloneRep). Viewers are encouraged to contact the speakers through social media channels (commenting the stream or sending private messages to the company via Facebook or through Twitter (twitter.com/CycloneRep).

Donohoe and Bale have been directing and performing Shakespeare plays for Secondary Schools students for over 15 years and have developed several productions of Hamlet in that time, as well as all the other plays prescribed in the curriculum for Junior & Senior Cycle Students.

Cyclone Rep Theatre Company tours nationwide to venues and schools and performs each year in repertory the prescribed Shakespeare plays for both Junior and Senior Cycle students. Over the last 10 years, more than 200k Irish Secondary students have seen the works of the Bard through Cyclone’s sessions. Cyclone Rep’s plays are continuously updated for the students to keep them fresh and alive.

For more on Cyclone Rep Theatre Company, see www.cyclonerep.com

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Cyclone Rep’s Hamlet


Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions – celebrating 10 years of Theatre-in-Education

Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

This year marks the tenth anniversary since the creation of Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions. Cyclone Rep is Ireland’s leading Shakespearean Theatre-in-Education Company. We are also (as far as we know) the only repertory company in Ireland. 

The inspiration for Cyclone’s hugely successful take on Shakespeare’s texts stems from Artistic Director Peadar Donohoe’s years as a drama coach in Cork. His approach to theatre was and still is deeply influenced by Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”. Breaking the fourth wall, audience interaction, and heightened physicality are all integral components of Cyclone’s performance style. Using these elements Cyclone achieves their mission to provide secondary school audiences with an exciting and multi-faceted theatrical experience that engages, entertains and educates.

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Cyclone Rep’s “King Lear”    Image credit: Shane Vaughan

The Shakespeare Sessions are abridged versions of the plays that stay true to the language and spirit of Shakespearean theatre. Cyclone’s approach to Theatre-in-Education is highly collaborative and constantly takes on board audience and stakeholders’ feedback. A typical Shakespeare Session includes everything from a sword fight between an actor and a student to nuanced discussions of challenging themes such as madness, gender, or racism.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Each year the company tours a number of Shakespeare plays in repertory. The 2019-2020 season sees four plays being toured: Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Hamlet. Marcus Bale, the company manager, estimates that by May 2020, over 31,000 individuals nationwide will have experienced this season’s sessions. Marcus, who plays both Hamlet and Shylock, is an internationally trained actor whose focus for the last 20 years has been the physical theatrical techniques of Commedia dell’Arte, Mime, Clown, Improvisation, and the work of Jacques Lecoq, Eugenio Barba, and Augusto Boal, and these practices have been incorporated into the Cyclone Rep’s style of performance.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Also, true to 16th century performance tradition is the use of gender-swapped roles. Cyclone plays constantly with this tradition. In Cyclone’s Romeo and Juliet Session, Leah Wood plays Tybalt, while Kieran O’Leary plays The Nurse. Since Shakespeare’s time, his plays have undergone numerous iterations from a Soviet-styled Macbeth to Julius Caesar with an all-female cast. Engaging with this long-standing tradition, Cyclone has re-imagined Shakespeare’s work while staying true to key themes and interpretations. For example, The King Lear Session tackles the theme (central to the play) of nature run amok by setting the play in a post-apocalyptic world caused by climate change. During The Hamlet Session different interpretations surrounding the theme of madness are discussed by the cast with the audience. The Romeo and Juliet Session explores gender and sexuality, and even features Shakespeare himself (played by Mike Keep). When the Bard himself is transplanted into our modern age, he is forced to grapple with how both theatre and the role of women in the public sphere has changed. 

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Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Thanks to audience feedback the Shakespeare Sessions have evolved greatly since 2010.In Cyclone’s first production of King Lear in 2015 the characters of Kent and the Fool were merged (this was done to allow for a five-member cast). However, students found this conflation confusing and teachers voiced this issue. So, Cyclone’s second production of The King Lear Session featured six actors and the characters of Kent and Fool were played by two different actors. 

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Ophelia in Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Beginning in 2010, during The Hamlet Session the main female characters are questioned by the male characters in a mock interrogation scene. Audiences liked this technique so much, that the latest production of The Hamlet Session similarly acts out an interrogation of the male characters’ motives and culpability. Ongoing feedback from teachers and students helps us to constantly incorporate and expand on aspects of the plays that young people and teachers feel are relevant today. Equally, the role of audio-visual aids has grown considerably since our inception. Initially the use of these projections was minimal but this has changed due to audience demand. Now audio-visuals are an integral part of the sessions, and we use a whole range of these, from animations, mind maps, and bullet points clarifying key ideas to rap versions of 16th century poetry and Joy Division songs.

For a decade, Cyclone Rep has been committed to bringing Shakespeare to life for young people nationwide in fresh and creative ways. Since 2010, over 200,000 young people have seen Cyclone’s Shakespeare Sessions. Thus, it is fair to say that in some measure, Cyclone is helping building Ireland’s next generation of theatregoers.

More information can be found on the Cyclone Rep website, along with booking details for upcoming productions (listed below).

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Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

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.

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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

 


 

Shakespeare Sessions with Cyclone Rep, 2019-2020 – theatre for and in schools

[Info from Civic Theatre, Tallaght, website]

Cyclone Rep, Ireland’s Leading Shakespeare Theatre-in-Education Company, presents The Shakespeare Sessions. These are entertaining and engaging student-centred performances of Shakespeare’s texts. This year the company is presenting The King Lear Session, The Hamlet Session, The Romeo & Juliet Session & The Merchant Session (pending demand).

Each performance includes an edited production of the play together with a scholarly review clarifying the main themes as well as discussions with the students and the opportunity to participate. The Shakespeare Sessions will guide Junior and Senior Cycle learners in their understanding of The Bard’s masterpieces.

For further details and for the 2019-2020 tour schedule, see the Cyclone Rep website.

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The Lear Session  (Image source: Cyclone Rep website)

 


 

Theatre: Hamlet, Dublin Theatre Festival, Gate Theatre, 27 September – 13 October

This production of Hamlet is a very exciting inclusion in this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, with Ruth Negga playing the title role. Tickets seem to be selling quickly so don’t delay if you’re interested.

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Dublin Theatre Festival

Hamlet | Gate Theatre | 27 Sept-13 Oct Book Tickets

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!’

A murdered King. A remarried Queen. A state on the precipice. When society starts to collapse, do we fight or flee?

Hamlet is one of the most revived Shakespeare plays in the Gate’s 90 year history (1928–2018). In celebration of the theatre’s pioneering founders, Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, Shakespeare’s iconic story of politics, vengeance, madness and murder is reimagined in a ground-breaking, visionary Gate Theatre production for today’s audience.
 
Oscar-nominated Irish actress, Ruth Negga, makes her Gate stage debut in the title role of Hamlet, joined by a cast of Ireland’s finest actors. Award-winning director Yaël Farber heads an exciting creative team including Tony Award-winning set and costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Paul Keogan and composer Tom Lane.

‘The dilemma “to be or not to be” has held us in its thrall for centuries – and has never seemed more potent and urgent. A Hamlet for our time.’ — Yaël Farber, Director

This production is funded by the Arts Council.

Cast and Creative Team
Cast includes: Fiona Bell, Gavin Drea, Aoife Duffin, Nick Dunning, Peter Gaynor, Steve Hartland, Mark Huberman, Gerard Kelly, Conor Madden, Barry McKiernan, Ruth Negga, Owen Roe, and Gerard Walsh
Directed by Yaël Farber
Set and Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Paul Keogan
Sound Design: Tom Lane
Movement Director: Muirne Bloomer
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Associate Director: Marc Atkinson
Textual Advisor: Ben Power

Information and Tickets
Venue: Gate Theatre
Dates: 27 & 28 Sept, 1 & 2, 4 & 5, 8 & 9, 11 & 12, Oct, 7pm
29 Sept, 3, 6, 10, 13, Oct, 1.30pm & 7pm
Tickets: €25-€55
Duration: Approx. 3 hrs. incl. interval.

The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane at the Abbey Theatre now

Abbey Theatre

Pan Pan Theatre

23 – 26 May 2018

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In Pan Pan’s purgatorial presentation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, you the audience are faced with a choice: who is going to be, or not to be, Hamlet?

Actors compete to play the title role but as we enter the graveyard world of this icon of individualism can anyone escape playing the Dane? Aren’t we all the main part?

Highly innovative and visually breathtaking, this is an audacious and irreverent riff on Hamlet that does not so much update or deconstruct the play as explode it. Playing fast and loose with our familiarity and expectations, the onstage Director rations out Shakespeare’s text, knowingly excavating its layers in a series of theatrical devices and conceits that focuses the large cast, and the audience, on the existential plight of its characters.

Even the stage is a Hall of Mirrors and the play-within-a-play, enacted by a troupe of Dublin Youth Theatre members, is Hamlet itself.

Dates: 23 – 26 May
On the Abbey Stage

Times: Wed – Sat 7.30pm, Matinee Sat 2pm

Tickets: €13 – €45 / Conc. €13 – €30

Running Time: 2 hours including an interval

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.

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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