Spring Hill Reservoirs
October 7 – 22 2016
Reviewed by Katy Cotter
What is it about Shakespeare’s Hamlet? It is the story of a grieving and tortured young man who seeks revenge for his father’s death. Do we sympathise with him? Do we forgive him for his sins? As an audience, we are sucked into the drama, into the madness, into the world being presented before us. There is no doubt a tragic end approaches, though we never stop rooting for the Prince of Denmark.
Why keep telling this story, or any Shakespeare for that matter? There is no denying that the Bard’s words, his language has continued to be a point of investigation; a search to uncover new meaning. Companies are now taking on the challenge to modernise Shakespeare or place his stories into different worlds. Some have been more successful than others.
HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet is set in a post-apocalyptic world – D-MARK – a High Security Compound. It was my first visit to the Spring Hill Reservoirs and I was immediately transported into another space and time. There was no seating bank. The audience was free to stand or sit wherever they desired, on crates or wooden boxes, and followed the actors as they moved around the compound. There were roughly 10 rooms where the scenes would play out, although I found the spaces other than where the main action was taking place were sometimes more captivating. These “off side” moments were capturing Ophelia in her private moments, or Hamlet meandering around the compound reading or muttering to himself. These were fresh insights into the character’s psyche. Perhaps they were too distracting from the main action at times. I definitely found them more interesting.
Lighting by Jason Harding and sound design by Paul Young were incredibly detailed, creating a threatening and ominous atmosphere that allowed the audience to sink deep into the drama unfolding in front of them. The sound did overpower the actor’s at times and clarity was lost. The lighting and sound desk also doubled as a monitoring room where Claudius and Gertrude would retreat to spy on Hamlet.
The post-apocalyptic scenario worked as far as placing the story into a new aesthetic. The costumes had a medieval/Viking/space-like/futuristic feel to them that looked great under the lights. There were guns and gas masks. Ophelia had a wire strapped to her chest at one point. These elements were visually pleasing but I was not convinced it enhanced or revamped the story. I wondered what were the reasons behind setting the play in this time? What was happening in the world outside of the bunker? The sound design alluded that there was a war but I only sensed this at the end of a scene when there was an explosion, a drone strike perhaps, and Gertrude and Ophelia hit the ground in fear. That scene was terrifying and I yearned for more of these moments, though it never happened again. I felt this may have been a lost opportunity to raise new and exciting stakes for the characters and push the story into unchartered territory.
Hamlet is a long play and like any Shakespeare, it is a challenge for the actor’s to keep the audience invested in the story. Grappling with the language and conveying meaning and genuine emotion is paramount. David Paterson who played the leading role delivered a strong and complex performance. He was charming yet extremely dangerous. I must admit I found it difficult to listen to some of the performers. The ladies in particular spoke in high registers as if they were struggling with the acoustics, and the men sometimes spoke with thick Australian accents that was jarring and brought me out of the world. I think the company would have benefitted from a more coherent sound. That being said they were united and invested in each moment.
HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet dares the audience to participate in the action and not sit back and watch it unfold. I enjoyed the opportunity to view the story from different perspectives and let my imagination interact with the character’s I have grown to know and love. Or do I know them? Do I love them? This work challenges those preconceived perceptions of some of Shakespeare’s well known characters. There are so many elements to this show and some of them work and some fall short of hitting the mark. It is so important to see theatre that makes you question what you like or what you don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work. This High Security Compound is accessible this week only. Head on down to D-Mark.