BWW Review: HAMLET at The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
The Australian Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet in the annual 'Under the Stars' season is a fantastic way to see a classic Shakespearean tragedy in a relaxed and enjoyable setting. Staged in the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria at sunset, this outdoor venue provides a very enjoyable night of theatre this summer.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, generally referred to as Hamlet, is one of Shakespeare's most well-known tragedies. Written sometime between 1599 and 1602, it is Shakespeare's longest play and one of his most performed works. Set in the court of Denmark, the King, Hamlet's father, has been assassinated by his brother Claudius who has taken the throne for himself and married Hamlet's mother Gertrude. Hamlet and the rest of the court are unaware of Claudius's treachery. The play begins with the ghost of Hamlet's father appearing to reveal Claudius's treason and to ask Hamlet to avenge him.
The Australian Shakespeare Company prides itself on presenting "exciting, accessible, contemporary productions of Shakespeare in an innovative and unique theatre performance form." This production of Hamlet certainly achieves this mission.
The company's outdoor theatre origins began back in 1987 as Shakespeare Under the Stars under the direction of Glenn Elston, who also directed and designed this production. Elston joined the Australian Shakespeare Company in 1998 as its Artistic Director and Producer, and since then has expanded the company into Australia's largest independent theatre company. Elston is well known for having pioneered the outdoor theatre experience in Australia and his award winning productions over the years have been seen by over a million people.
Having never experienced outdoor theatre before I was not sure what to expect from this production of Hamlet. Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised with the Company's operations, and their experience in outdoor theatre was obvious. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner and blanket; however, if you are a novice to this style of theatre like I was, chairs and plenty of food options are available for purchase. This type of social theatre experience is great for families, groups of friends and couples alike. Patrons are encouraged to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens early to enjoy the surroundings while nibbling on packed picnic basket goodies and a glass of wine. Surely this is the best way to see Shakespeare!
The outdoor setting and staging allows audiences to see Shakespeare in a more traditional setting than what most contemporary theatres allow. In London in the late 16th and early 17th century audiences watched Shakespeare's work in an open-air amphitheatre, like The Globe Theatre. While the outdoor amphitheatre at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is different to The Globe, it still provides an authentic way to experience Hamlet.
Elston's set design and direction work perfectly in the space allowing the main focus to be on the delivery of Shakespeare's text. The cast performances provided mixed levels of articulation and understanding of the text, however some highlights included Brian Lipson as Polonius, Alison Whyte as Gertrude and Matthew Connell as Horatio.
The Australian Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet will be on until 9th February and is a fun night out for audiences of all kinds. Watching the sunset and the moon rise added greatly to the outdoor theatre experience.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit https://shakespeareaustralia.com.au/shows/hamlet/