Thursday, October 15, 2015


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Damien Ryan
Bell Shakespeare Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 24 October

Review by Len Power 14 October 2015

With ‘Hamlet’ being directed by Damien Ryan, who had done a marvellous job with ‘Henry V’ for Bell Shakespeare, my expectations were running pretty high.  I was not disappointed.  This is a very entertaining and well thought out production.

Performed by a cast of eleven, with some actors playing multiple roles, this Hamlet is very clear in its story-telling.  We observe a young man still trying to find his way in the world.  He’s typically moody, unsure of himself and conflicted in his relations with others.  If there is mental illness there, it isn’t apparent in the early part of the story.  Playing a deadly game which ultimately tips him over into madness, the end result is unusually moving.  This is a Hamlet we care about and a lot of that is due to the director’s intention being successfully realized in performance.

At the opening night in Canberra, Hamlet was played by the understudy, Scott Sheridan, owing to the indisposition of Josh McConville.  It was a pity to miss McConville, but Scott Sheridan gave an outstanding performance of this long and daunting role.  His presentation of the famous soliloquies was well thought out and he brought something unique to his readings.  He deserved the positive response from the audience at the end of the show.  He is an actor to watch out for in the future.

Everyone in the cast gave strong performances.  Particularly impressive in the major roles were Matilda Ridgway’s Ophelia, Doris Younane as Gertrude, Philip Dodd as both Polonius and the Gravedigger, Sean O’Shea as Claudius and Ivan Donato as Horatio.

The modern day setting in the royal palace in Elsinore, Denmark seemed absolutely right.  The clever set designed by Alicia Clements has a historical charm with old-world gilt and glass contrasting with the well-chosen modern day costumes.  The set  would have provided some lighting challenges but Matt Cox’s lighting design works very well, adding great atmosphere to the show.  Composer and sound designer, Steve Francis produced some great sound effects and music that was at times like the underscoring in a movie.

This a production that works at all levels.  It’s a great opportunity to see this classic play come alive for a modern audience.

Len Power's reviews can also be heard in Artsound FM92.7's 'Artcetera' program on Saturdays at 9.00am.