New provocative and edgy take on ‘Hamlet’

VIBRANCY is a word you might not necessarily associate with a play like Hamlet – traditionally a work of shadowy figures, brooding inner reflection and devious, vengeful plotting – but energy is the overall impact one gains with this staging.

Sure, Linda-Louise Swain’s edgy, bold and provocative interpretation has all the above elements. But with a mostly youthful, highly motivated cast she has managed to introduce a crime thriller-like pace to the proceedings, thanks to some judicious editing and intimate elements.

As Swain explains, an idea had evolved to play the work in the round in the open air at Mannville, but after power glitches forced the troupe to move to the Little Theatre, that all but fell away.

Still, the tragedy is played out in this manner as best as can be achieved in conventional theatre and the results are innovative and immediately very personal.

Kudos must go to a cast who have a clear understanding of the material they’re working with. This is not to be under-emphasised. Too often the grasp of Shakespeare’s works – and the impact of his centuries old but all-powerful and soaring dialogue – eludes even the most experienced.

But here Swain has succeeded in eliciting a credible embrace by the actors of what is essentially a murder mystery and it comes off with an ease that belies the often tricky terrain of the bard’s writing.

If ever a character has the ability to set the pace of a play, it is the tormented Prince of Denmark and, in the title role, Andrew White leads from the front emphatically.

It is a vigorous and dynamic performance from the outset – with appropriately stark contrasts of subtlety, self-doubt and crazed outbursts which, in less talented hands, might derail the role. But here, White manages to attain a tightrope balance which conveys his racing thoughts convincingly.

Another young star of the production is Jessica Rijs as Ophelia – desperately in love but increasingly bewildered and distraught at Hamlet’s apparent madness – who brings to the part just the right touch of apparent innocence, playfulness and infatuation, only to slowly begin slipping over the edge.

I say “apparent” because Swain has taken an interesting off-ramp with Ophelia – suggesting she could well have been pregnant and backs up this assertion with persuasive arguments in her programme notes.

The other leads provide solid backup: Cameron Robertson as Claudius has a powerful stage presence, with a voice to match, and his many scenes with his new bride, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Lesley Barnard) are also highlights of the production.

Both performers fully explore the nuances of their characters and with their excellent diction give them a full roundedness. Hamlet’s confrontation with his mother is a neatly daring and explicit scene.

Gift Buqa as the ghost of King Hamlet is another terrific and imposing figure on stage as the restless spirit (an eerily spot-on depiction) while he later makes an absolutely delightful Osric.

Ray Saunders brings his wealth of experience to present a gently sage Polonius, while Arthur Daniels as Horatio shows promise, but needs to slow his speech patterns and improve projection to lend the role more substance.

Here the interpretation is that his friendship with Hamlet went much deeper – at least from Horatio’s side – but the touchy-feely bits were perhaps a little overdone. Less overtness is usually stronger suggestiveness.

This is a striking production and theatre-goers would be well advised to catch it this last weekend of its run.

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