Saturday, April 9, 2022



Hamlet by Willliam Shakespeare. Directed by Peter Evans. Designed by Anna Tregloan. Lighting Design by Benjamin Cisterne. Composer and sound designer Max Lyandvert. Video designer Laura Turner. Movement, intimacy and fight director Nigel Poulton Voice and text coach Jess Chambers. Bell Shakespeare. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre centre. April 8 – 16 2022. Bookings 62752700.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 The play’s the thing and the question is how will Hamlet work if a woman is cast in the role? In Bell Shakespeare’s current reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy this question becomes totally irrelevant. This is not because the love of a daughter towards a father can be so profoundly deep. Nor is it because the love between a female Hamlet and Ophelia is totally acceptable. In Peter Evans’s production Hamlet is played as the young prince by Harriet Gordon-Anderson. Here is an astounding performance, intense, gripping and driven. This is not madness.  Gordon-Anderson’s Hamlet is on a fervent mission, hell bent on reasoned and justifiable revenge. Her grief at the discovery of her father’s cruel murder does not, as it does in the case of Ophelia descend into madness. It fuels a passionate, sane and deliberate desire to seek justice for  the heinous crime perpetrated by her uncle, Claudius (Ray Chong Nee). Hamlet’s perceived madness is nothing more than  Machiavellian subterfuge perpetrated by a highly intelligent  young man with a single minded intent to carry out the will of his father’s ghostly apparition. Gordon-Anderson’s Hamlet is the most plausible interpretation that I have seen for a very long time. There is no feigned motive, no contrivance and no artifice. Gordon-Anderson’s Hamlet is a man for all times, resolved to right a wrong and prepared to use his cunning and his wit to achieve that end. None of the characters of the Danish court are any match for this determined servant of veangence. Like any war, there will be collateral damage. Poor Polonius, played beautifully by a kindly, comical Robert Menzies by his accidental death seals Hamlet’s ultimate fate and inadvertently the deaths of his children Ophelia and Laertes (Jack Grumlin).

Hamlet is a play about cause and consequence. It is also a domestic tragedy, a universal prophesy that resonates today. Peter Evans’s direction illuminates the natural consequence of action. The clarity is startling, set against Anna Tregloan’s picturesque design of statuesque firs in a snowy landscape. Hers is a refreshing aspect of the beauty that surrounds the grim and suffocatingly insular events within the castle walls of Elsinore. Laura Turner’s videos of young Hamlet enjoying the summer seaside holiday adds to the poignancy of Fate’s inevitability. Claudius and  Hamlet must die for the murders that they have committed.  Powerless victims of male dominance, Gertrude (played effectively with guileless naivety by Lucy Bell) and Ophelia (touchingly played by Rose Riley) are, like Polonius, pawns in Hamlet’s unswerving goal to seek revenge.  Even Ropsencranz (Jeremi Campesi) and Guildenstern (Jane Mahady) must pay the price for their betrayal.

Peter Evans and his cast have demystified Shakespeare’s psychological drama. His production is not about madness. It is about holding a mirror up to Nature and showing the consequence of action. Evans inspired casting of  Gordon-Andersom as the tortured Prince of Denmark introduces an actor  whom I predict will become one of the finest actors on the Australian stage.  She is ably supported by experienced actors Bell and Menzies who share the stage with promising emerging actors Grumlin and Riley. This has been  a long held tradition of mentorship by Bell Shakespeare. Unfortunately, Nee as the villainous uncle appeared to have difficulty with the Shakespearian metre and his performance, though suitably menacing, lacked vocal consistency,

It is customary for directors to cut Shakespeare’s plays to fit the “two hours traffic upon the stage.” I am puzzled why Evans should have cut Hamlet’s speech to the players. It is a matter of life and death that the truth of the their performance reveal Claudius’s guilt and thereby justify Hamlet’s revenge. Nor does the removal of Horatio’s final eulogy for dramatic effect serve Jacob Warner’s stature as Hamlet’s dear friend and arouse empathy for Hamlet’s cause. These are directorial decisions with clear purpose, but I found it puzzling.

Bell Shakespeare’s latest production of Hamlet is powerful storytelling. Gordon-Anderson’s Hamlet skilfully and convincingly persuades us to regard Hamlet’s actions as a resolute and rational approach to thoroughly justifiable veangance according to Machiavellian principles. This may not be the case in Evans’s twentieth century setting, but that is a matter of “willing suspension of disbelief.

 Ultimately this is  a story of centuries ago that resonates with riveting relevance. Bell Shakespeare’s production is not just Hamlet’s tragedy. Director Evans and his creative team present a Hamlet that holds humanity’s cracked mirror up to Nature. Look into the glass and you will find Shakespeare’s true intent looking back. And Gordon-Anderson’s Hamlet is a performance not to be missed.