Friday, July 2, 2010

THEATRE: Hamlet (Bondi Pavilion)

"A little more than kin and less than kind"

I saw a stage production of Hamlet in Bondi Pavilion months ago as part of my critical study of Hamlet for school. I’m starting to enjoy Shakespeare’s works now. Having only read it in class with students (including myself) reading lines in a painfully monotonous tone, I thought Shakespeare was pretty damn boring. And overrated. Apparently that’s a really big statement to say about such a revered writer and Shakespeare fanatics will probably poison me through the ear while I sleep. But I have balls. I can deal with it.

Anyway. Throughout the years I was utterly bored reading plays like Richard III and Macbeth (the name reminds me of a mix between a Big Mac and pakbet – lovers of Filipino cuisine will get this joke). I found myself longing to read novels like Of Mice and Men and poetry like Porphyria’s Lover instead, which we also did in class.

But after experiencing the words of Shakespeare come alive on stage, as well as in film interpretations, I grasped an understanding as to why his works are still studied and enjoyed by readers today. His words are not meant to be read in class – they were meant to be acted out by professionals who can read the lines and deliver them with a higher degree of emotional range.

The production I saw was evidently low budget. It was held at a very small theatre with limited costumes, sets and lighting designs. It’s probably not the best Hamlet stage interpretation I will ever see in my lifetime, but it was adequate. They injected more humour in the play – the whole theatre was full of schoolkids so I thought this was a good decision as it gave it more vitality and energy. The actors were also very much engaged with the audience and there wasn’t any moment when they lost that connection.

However, there were flaws. Firstly, the characterisation of Gertrude was too simplified. For such an ambiguous character, they could have taken her characterisation to a much deeper level. For me, she was one of the most interesting characters in the play and I felt a bit cheated. There were also faults in the use of music and sound.  The music was too filmic, instead of atmospheric. It would have worked in a film version, but being on stage, it took me out of the experience and was distracting. The sound was quite tacky and sounded like it was taken from a sound clip they found from a video editing software.
The highlight of the play was the opening scene, the clever use of flashlights (it was set in a more contemporary setting- Nazi period to be exact) created a sense of immersion and was quite captivating.

Their main target audience would have been high school kids studying the play and they achieved enough to reinforce an understanding of the plot, as well as highlighting the main themes. This is not the best thing I’ve seen on stage but it’s certainly not the worst either.

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