Review by Lee Sarich
Bell Shakespeares 2022 production of Hamlet created an expectant pre show buzz reaching almost fever pitch in the moments before opening night commenced and it did not disappoint.
It’s an elegant, enchanted and captivating ride. Dreamy soft beginnings lure attention, concealing the maelstrom epic journey that unfolds ahead.
Set in the 1960s, Danish royalty is styled sharp and chic, and that Shakespeares’ dialogue fits unnoticed in this setting speaks to the mastery of the work by the entire company.
Directed by Peter Evans this telling flows with a joyful ease, naturally shifting pace to retain unlabored attention throughout.
Harriet Gordon-Anderson found in Hamlet a nuanced complexity, as a young man torn by grief and conflicting loyalties. Questioning everything from the authenticity of those closest to him, his place in the world and his very sanity, Hamlets desperate search for a meaningful and appropriate response to his overwhelming circumstances puts him at odds with just about everyone. Brooding introspection and jovial mockery lean into seething rage that finds expression with an energised vitality, uplifting the audience throughout this emotional marathon.
As Hamlets’ mother Gertrude, Lucy Bell is wistfully poised. Having married her late Husbands brother, she endures the ire of her son while trying to manage her new relationship and Royal standing. Observing Hamlet commune with the spirit of his father, unseen to her, Gertrude exudes a fiercely protective maternal compassion in an arresting and emotive display.
Marrying his late brothers wife and usurping his throne, Gertrude’s new husband Claudius requires an interminable force, and Ray Chong Nee delivers. With calculated malice, charm and bluster Claudius strides and booms about, desperate to contain his ever unraveling world. In a moment of uncharacteristic self appraisal, Claudius finds himself wanting and we witness an introspective moment of clarity, sharply contrasting his earlier aplomb.
Robert Menzies plays a quirky Polonius, courtier to the Royal household and father to Hamlets girlfriend Ophelia. Polonius provides some comic relief to the complicated machinations, as he bows and scrapes and jests his way to advise his king and console his discarded daughter.
When Rose Riley as Ophelia can bear no more of Hamlets rejection and begins to lose her grip on reality with impassioned song, people sat up, checked the program to see who she is and the term ‘show stealer’ started bouncing around my mind for all the right reasons. A supercharged ripple reverberated, outstanding!
Similarly James Evans demanded attention when as the Player King he shares a palpable spark of depth and joy which convinces Hamlet to enlist his aide in the humiliation and accusation of Claudius. As the Ghost of Hamlets father he is a picture of stoic repose and laconically aloof as a Gravedigger.
Eleni Cassimatis as Osric plays well with Hamlets taunts in an enjoyable exchange setting up the finale of the play. As the Player Queen she amuses the royal court before Hamlets plot to expose Claudius is revealed and as the Second Gravedigger she adds some solemn reflection on the morality of suicide.
Jeremi Campese brings a fresh vibrance to both Marcellus as he takes us in a trance like decent to the world where spirits roam, with a genuine air of innocent wonder and alarm, and as Rosencrantz where we see him spy on Hamlet, burdened by the betrayal of their childhood friendship at the behest of Claudius.
Jane Mahady as Guildenstern is also weighed down as she works with Rosencrantz against Hamlet, and adds to the magic as Barnardo, another guard with Marcellus, witnessing the first appearance of the murdered King.
Jacob Warner is Horatio, Hamlets steadfast friend. Ever patient and true Horatio provides a constant sureness amongst the chaos, listening and guiding with devoted sincerity.
Jack Crumlin completes the Players ensemble for the Royal Court with an infectious good humour and as Laertes, affectionate brother to Ophelia, dutiful son to Polonius and enraged reckoner to Hamlet, his noble nature is coveted by Claudius. Raging at his sisters death, Laertes meets Hamlet in a fencing duel with finessed skill and aggression developed with assistance of Nigel Poulton as movement, intimacy and fight Director.
The concert of design by Anna Tregloan, lighting by Benjamin Cisterne, sound and composing by Max Lyandvert, video design by Laura Turner and voice and text coach Jess Chambers combine to fill out a thoroughly enjoyable production.
The final shattering crescendo ends not unlike a Tarantino free for all. Revenge, corruption, power and betrayal never grow old, and judging by the end of opening night standing ovation, neither will Hamlet.