Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hamlet - DTC Ensemble

Review by John Lombard

The Daramalan College Ensemble's excellent production of Hamlet burns with the anger of youth, stripping back the play's fuss and complexity for a raw depiction of what it is like to be a teenager in a world corrupted by selfish, compromised adults.  Something is rotten, and not just in Denmark...

This brash production savagely cuts Shakespeare's text, bringing the notoriously long play down to about two hours.  Entire threads of the plot, such as the threat of foreign invasion, are completely excised with the focus now entirely on the family saga.

The cuts do not just trim, but wound: the military threat Denmark faces is a key reason for a rushed union between royals Claudius and Gertrude, and a window into Gertrude's motivation for being so hasty to show joy in her sorrow. 

But what the production loses in subtlety and complexity, it gains in energy and focus.  Director Joe Woodward (along with "Dramaturg, Text Adaptor and Assistant Director" Tony Allan) are interested in how Hamlet can connect with a young audience, and frame the action in terms of struggle over control of a family-run business empire, with the spoiled children of that world groping to understand adult machinations through a drug-induced haze of paranoia.

Central to this production is the casting of Oliver Durbidge as Hamlet.  Durbidge's Hamlet is defined by a bleary, clouded gaze, and perpetual paranoid mania.  Durbidge performs the role with a lot of conviction, although Hamlet is in this production less likeable than a suprisingly calm and straightforward Laertes.  It is hard to symphathise with a teen that gets high on weed and then assaults his mother because he thinks she's a slut.  However Durbidge's performance has definite star power, especially when he lets us see Hamlet's genuine grief.

Overall, delivery of lines and physicality were outstanding for student drama.  Gabby Stewart gives a strong performance as Ophelia, convincing both as a cloistered ingenue and later in frantic madness (the play obeys Shakespeare's written script, but the program provides vital context that she dropped too much e to impress Hamlet).  Corey Goodberg and Meaghan Stewart were extremely funny as a clowning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to the point where it was easy to take their side against Hamlet.  The hot-blooded and reckless Laertes (Jack Curry) was here played as a good boy preppy, his neat clothes an excellent contrast with Hamlet's punk denim.

Mitchell Dwyer hit the right note with a silly, sinister, and sometimes loving Polonius, an easy mark for Hamlet (or so he thinks) - I was reminded with sympathy of every teacher forced to glad-hand a brat who is not as clever as he thinks he is.  Zara McCann's Gertrude was enjoying the spring of life, although a little too cool in the presence of murder and violence.  Alex Smith's Claudius was very well-drawn, an icy sociopath, although his blase, amused response to the suffering of others was a poor fit with his prayer to heaven for understanding.

Tony Allan audaciously commands us to "forget every other production of Hamlet", and that reckless confidence shapes this production, with the cast committed to telling their story of Hamlet, one that focuses on the struggles of teenagers in the unjust world baffling, wine-swilling adults have created.  While a lot of the play's meaning and depth has been hacked away, the conviction of the production team and commitment of the cast to using the play's challenge to hone their craft has delivered a powerful, memorable and effective production.