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BWW Review: HAMLET at Shoreside Theatre, Pumphouse

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

BWW Review: HAMLET at Shoreside Theatre, Pumphouse

BWW Review: HAMLET at Shoreside Theatre, Pumphouse

Reviewed by Glenda Pearce

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

It's a warm summer night at the Shoreside's 25th Summer Shakespeare in the Park - and tonight it's HAMLET. Shakespeare intended to entirely involve his audience, and right from the outset, the characters come to chat with us - as if we are come to court to attend the wedding celebrations of Queen Gertrude (Steph Curtis) and King Claudius (Jonathan Gabriel). Laertes (Jordan Henare) says pointedly that you can't catch the plague (COVID) if you're arrogant and obnoxious - which he says he is.

A quick announcement lets us know that, due to illness, the part of Polonius will be read/played by Matthew Diesch tonight. After all, as we know, the show must go on! Congratulations to Matthew. He reads the part with total understanding of the bumbling, verbose, and paradoxical figure that Polonius is. The well-known advice and witticisms are delivered with clarity, an underplayed matter-of-factness which works well, and a fine sense of the character. 'This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. ' Nice touches of humour throughout, such as here where Laertes (Jordan Henare) has his bag packing checked as Polonius delivers this famous fatherly advice, or such as the elbow (COVID) greetings between Horatio (Aidan Leddy) and Hamlet (Zane Wood).

It is always refreshing to see how a director takes a classic play that you know well, and gives it new angles and perspectives, whilst remaining true to the intent of the play. Excellent direction and creative vision by James Bell who uses the potential of the outdoor multi-levelled, setting/stage design (James Bell, Aria Harrison-Sparke and Jason Moffatt), and brings to life a powerful revenge story, full of betrayal and deceit, interspersed with comic humour and Shakespeare's understanding of humanity. Exits and entrances, and use of the audience space, are expertly managed. Costume design (Aria Harrison-Sparke) and lighting and sound design (Siobhan Donnelly) are both superb.

"Remember me." The ghost of King Hamlet (Ben Plummer) is played with angry, powerful intensity and rich resonant tones. His appearance to the already melancholy and angry Hamlet (Zane Wood) convincingly provides the motivation for Hamlet to take action against his uncle who has murdered his father, and married his mother. Queen Gertrude (Steph Curtis) is convincing as the charming and gracious woman, reliant on men, balancing the needs of motherhood with a much loved son going mad with grief and its effect on the innocent Ophelia, whilst still maintaining the new (justified) role of wife (after all - It's important Denmark has a strong ruler as it's being invaded by Norway). King Claudius (Jonathan Gabriel) is believable and suitably skilful as the corrupt politician whose main weapon is his ability to manipulate others: "Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works"

What is distinctly new is the interpretation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Meg Andrews and Mark Wilson). Costumed in a pirate look and played in commedia dell'arte style, initially as drunken louts, they bring a lively comic touches as the university "friends" of Hamlet. We are easily persuaded these two would betray their friendship to Hamlet. Of course, Hamlet finds them out: "You'd play me easier than this pipe". These two are entirely engaging and relevant in what are often seen as inconsequential characters.

Aidan Leddy, is truthful as Horatio, Hamlet's sensible, honest and loyal friend, one who keeps Hamlet's secrets. We see Horatio warning Hamlet several times, notably about the letter that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have, to get Hamlet killed; and he warns against fighting Laertes. Touching moment in the final scenes, where Hamlet entrusts the telling of the tragedy to Horatio.

The demanding role of the multi-faceted Hamlet is handled well by Zane Wood. This is a young Hamlet, a university aged Hamlet: intelligent, emotional, philosophical. Hamlet's many well-known speeches "what a piece of work is man, infinite in faculty..." are delivered to the audience with clarity, understanding and ownership. Hamlet's lines are testament to Shakespeare's genius - there's something even more important he's NOT saying, maybe something even he is not aware if, even as he shares his thinking with us. When Shakespeare's lines are played with emotional connection and delivered directly to the audience, it is so powerful. At times other cast members forgot this.

A genuine sibling and touching relationship is established between loving brother, Laertes (Jordan Henare) and sister Ophelia (Aria Harrison-Sparke) in the opening action. Poor Ophelia - even from her very first scene men tell her what to do. The challenging court scene, where Ophelia is so obviously over the edge, is superbly handled by Aria Harrison-Sparke. Lovely touches in the costume and the wet edges - foreshadowing her tendency to go to the river where she will later drown. Ophelia's tragedy lies in the way she loses her innocence through no fault of her own. The conflict between Hamlet and Laertes is realistic as the tension escalates to the fatal duel.

As always, the success of any play ultimately lies in the contributions of all the cast. Every cast member is believable, focused and contributes to the success of the production - with many (Sophie Watson, Stephen Ellis, Bess Brookes, Gabrielle Reid) playing several roles , as Shakespeare's company would. So don't overthink it, and "lose the name of action". The well-presented, creative and imaginative choices definitely deserve an appreciative audience.

The 25th Summer 2021 Shakespeare in the Park (MUCH ADO and HAMLET) runs January 23 - February 20. Tickets on or (09) 489 8360. Children under 15 FREE.

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